Image courtesy of Damian Gadal under Creative Commons licence
29th June 2019

Should governments be entitled to read our messages?

Image courtesy of Damian Gadal under Creative Commons licence

What’s happening?

Despite individual privacy including the protection of free, unfettered communication being a fundamental right recognised by every democratic government on the planet, these same governments are claiming the right to open all our mail, listen in to all our phone and video calls, examine all our photos by banning or effectively making useless encryption algorithms that we all depend upon (regardless of whether we know it or not).

What reasons do they give?

An unsubstantiated and, quite honestly, ridiculous claim that breaching the personal privacy of every person on the planet will help reduce crime and terrorism.

What are the dangers?

A government that can be trusted one day may become entirely untrustworthy the next. History is littered with examples of governments that turn from “good” to “bad” in a heartbeat. At the time of writing, the world is seeing a global rise in popularism and extremism on both sides of the political spectrum and a diminution of true democratic accountability. To give but a few examples:

  • in the UK the Brexit fiasco is now at a stage where an entirely unrepresentative membership of one political party being in any case less than 0.2% of the total electorate is about to anoint the country’s next Prime Minister – with both candidates promising to act in a way that will prove catastrophic to the nation’s economy and social structures for generations – with the remaining 99.8% of the population being given no voice or say in what happens
  • elsewhere across the EU countries including Hungary and Italy have elected far right governments – so extreme that both countries have been subjected to EU sanctions. Meanwhile Poland swings to the opposite end of the spectrum and its government is busy removing important divisions between government and judiciary – one of the fundamental protections in any functioning democracy. None of this is good for the average citizen in those states
  • the USA is embroiled still, three years after it happened, in turmoil over whether their current President was elected fairly meanwhile watching as he creates economic and dipomatic mayhem on the global stage

Take a moment to think back just five years. Yes, the world had “rogue” governments and they were easily identified and diplomatic efforts held the majority of them (at least relatively) peacefully in check while those of us living in democratic societies enjoyed peace and harmony that had lasted for 70 years.

So, what’s changed – and how?

Information brings power – and power brings control, Just ask any Chinese citizen whose every move is monitored continuously and where discussion of events or religious beliefs their government disapproves of brings sanctions ranging from removal of social media accounts through loss of job and home to imprisonment in a labour camp through to execution.

So there is the danger. Once monitoring is in place it is the whim of a government that determines what is “acceptable” behaviour and what is a “crime”.

George Orwell might have been about three decades too early in his predictions of Big Brother but we are all – even those of us who believe we live in democratic, civilised societies – staring Big Brother in the eyes right this minute.

The role of the Internet

It may be hard to believe that the Internet is less than 30 years old – the World Wide Web is even younger. I played my own small part in bringing it to life.

Yet in less than three decades I and everyone I know who was involved in its creation has been forced to watch as it has been turned from our utopian dream of a technology that would allow all the people of the world access to free and open information and communication – into the most potent, weaponised, mass surveillance machine the world has ever seen – by big-tech companies hungry to make a buck out of our personal data and activities to governments eager to use it to monitor and control their populations.

Neither private tech giants nor governments knows or pays regard to any boundaries in what they can do with “the Internet machine” and all have lost all sense of scruple or decency in how they should not behave.

The latest danger

A recent article in Forbes magazine (https://www.forbes.com/sites/zakdoffman/2019/06/29/u-s-may-outlaw-uncrackable-end-to-end-encrypted-messaging-report-claims/) reports that the U.S. Government is considering a ban on all end-to-end encryption so that it can “listen in” at will to anybody’s communications with anyone else at any time.

Take a moment to understand what that means. If all encryption is banned, all data sent over the Internet must be open to being read / heard / watched by anyone who can intercept the data stream – and that’s a lot of people, not just the government.

  • The messages, photos and videos you currently privately share between your family or group of friends are no longer private.
  • As almost all phone calls and all video calls and chats pass over the Internet governments or anybody “authorised” by them or not could listen in at any time.
  • You must say goodbye to Internet shopping, banking or any other Internet delivered service that requires the secure transmission of private or personal data. Bye-bye Amazon.
  • If you are daft enough to have one of those “Internet of Things” voice-activated devices in your home everything within earshot of the device becomes public knowledge – so better not give the Christmas gift list away by discussing it in the kitchen and … if you have one of those things in your bedroom … my blushes restrain me – but to snoopers and stalkers everywhere suddenly every day is Christmas day!

Australia has already passed into law legislation banning use of encryption technology (see (1) https://www.technologyreview.com/f/612562/this-is-how-australias-ban-on-encryption-could-endanger-us-all/ (2) https://www.extremetech.com/internet/281991-australia-becomes-first-western-nation-to-ban-secure-encryption (3) https://medium.com/crip-to/australia-bans-encryption-1b0c1667d4dc) becoming the first nation in the “Five Eyes” group (USA, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) to pass such a law.

The reason given by the Australian Government for passing such a sweeping law is to assist them to:

fight serious offenses such as crime, terrorist attacks, drug trafficking, smuggling, and sexual exploitation of children.

I would encourage you to read the three articles referenced above as they give a good background to the arguments for and against and touch on some of the issues involved.

I want to touch on a couple of rather basic points that seem to have been overlooked (at least in part) by people fighting back against the tide of privacy invasion conducted by governments and large tech companies:

  1. There is no such thing as a “master key” to a worthwhile encryption algorithm, nor is there a way to provide “Ghost access” in which an unencrypted copy of the message is sent via some side channel to “the authorities”. Listen, politcians worldwide, if a message (text, email, photo, video, whatever) is encrypted by a device at which it originates before transmission then only someone with the specific key to decrypt that message can do so. Encryption algorithms are designed specifically so that no “man-in-the-niddle” can hear or see what is being transmitted, If anyone were to design an encryption algorithm that would allow an encrypted message to be decrypted in transit so that a plain copy could be openly read then by definition that is a broken encryption algorithm and is effectively worthless.
  2. Encryption is, therefore, a binary proposition – you either encrypt something – and nobody but the intended recipient can decrypt it – OR you may as well send it in plain text so that anybody with an Internet connection can read, listen to or watch it. THERE IS NO MIDDLE GROUND
  3. One simple (presumably unintended – but done, just the same) consequence of banning encryption (as Australia has already done, the U.S. Government is considering and the UK Government has been trying to do for several years) is that nobody in Australia can engage in on-line shopping or banking any longer. These, pretty much day-to-day activities rely on secure encryption to ensure that only you can access your bank account and only you can authorise payment with your credit or debit card. TAKE THE ENCRYPTION AWAY AND EVERYBODY’S BANK ACCOUNT AND PAYMENT CARDS ARE OPEN TO ANY PASSSING HACKER TO GATHER UP. Yes, the law now in force in Australia bans ALL encryption – even that between a person and his/her bank. Clearly, this is going to be a great aid to the police and secret services in “fight[ing] serious offenses such as crime, terrorist attacks, drug trafficking, smuggling, and sexual exploitation of children.” If ever proof were needed that politicians in general are idiots, here it is.

So, technically, the choice comes down to having no encryption at all (which has the consequence of breaking the entire Internet e-commerce economy among other “unintended” consequences) or allowing encrypted messaging to continue unhindered. Again, I emphasise, there is no middle ground.

If but one “unbreakable” or inaccessible to governments encryption algorithm were allowed (eg; so that Internet shopping and banking might continue) then it does not take a leap of imagination to say that anyone (good guy or blatant terrorist) who values their privacy will use that one algorithm to encrypt all their messaging.

How many more ways does it have to be explained to politicians the world over that this is one of those situations when you can’t have you cake and eat it?

But let’s just stand back a moment and ask ourselves what is actually happening here. There is no difference in an individual’s right to privacy and freedom to communicate without interference whether offline (in the physical world) or online (the Internet or virtual world). Every democratic country in the world has legislation written into its constitution, statute or international convention that states as much, A few examples:

  • USA – ‘In 1992, the United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a human rights treaty that guarantees privacy rights. More specifically, Article 17 of the ICCPR protects everyone from arbitrary or unlawful interferences with their “privacy, family, home, or correspondence.” ‘ source American Civil Liberties Union cf; https://www.aclu.org/issues/human-rights/human-rights-and-privacy
  • Europe including EEA countries (Norway, Switzerland etc) – personal privacy is guaranteed by the Human Rights Act (or however it is enshrined in each state’s legislation) for an example (good explanation) see the Swiss site https://secureswissdata.com/internet-privacy-human-right/
  • UK – while remaining a member of the EU (and even after – unless politicians get their way and do away with the Human Rights Act 2000) “Your right to privacy can only be interfered with when it is “necessary to do so in a democratic society”. This might include reasons like protecting national security or public safety, preventing crime or protecting the rights of other people.” To see how well the UK Government complies with its own law I would encourage you to read the following short text at https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/human-rights/privacy … which neatly brings me to the key points …

Can governments be trusted?

Whether you listen to Edward Snowden blowing the whistle on the illegal collection of US citizens communications by that country’s NSA spy organisation or you look at how governments have abused self-granted powers (usually nodded through by ignorant and unthinking politicians) the record shows that governments cannot be trusted with even basic personal information – let alone detailed copies of our every daily activity.

An example. In 2000 the UK Parliament brought into effect a law called the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (better known as “RIPA”). From its name you could be forgiven for thinking that this law restricted and restrained the powers of authorities to collect and use personal data. The cuddly description of this law and the codes supposedly governing its use are on the UK Government website at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/ripa-codes A more independent (if, as ever with WikiPedia incomplete) view of this law can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_Investigatory_Powers_Act_2000 where it is worth running your eye over both the broad scope of information that the RIPA legislation both mandates must be and allows to be collected on private citizens – next look at the very large range of government and semi-government organisations empowered to sift through that information and draw whatever conclusions they care from it (to understand the dangers of improperly interpreted data see Operation Ore).

As but one example of how government (or anybody wh gains just a tiny bit of power over our lives – and remember that information = power) I will use just one quote from WikiPedia

“In April 2008, it became known that council officials in Poole put three children and their parents under surveillance, governed by RIPA, at home and in their daily movements to check whether they lived in a particular school catchment area.[6][7] Council officials carried out directed surveillance on the family a total of 21 times.[8] This was in the context of rules which allow people who live in the school catchment area to enjoy advantages in obtaining a place at a popular school.”

Take a moment to think about that (proven true – the local authority responsible was successfully prosecuted in a court of law) report. A family applied for a place in a local publicly run school for one of their children. A low grade manager working for the local authority became irrationally suspicious that the family did not actually live in the defined catchment area which entitled the child to a place at the school. To “prove” the suspicion the local authority employed private detectives to conduct surveillance of the family including photographic and video evidence of the family arriving home at night, going to bed, waking up, leaving for work and school – some pictures taken through windows of the house.

All without the family’s knowledge or approval. Imagine being that family. Imagine being the subject of invasive covert surveillance – all because they had innocently and entirely correctly registered their child at the next school on his/her personal educational ladder. And some dwonk employed by a local authority with more imagination than brain cells and no regard for personal privacy set a firm of private eyes on the family over a period of several months.

Because that’s what the RIPA legislation says could be done.

Our governments already spy on us way too much

Let’s look at those reasons again

The reasons given by the Australian Government for banning all use of encryption in the country are the same reasons trotted out by every government whenever they want to increase the haul of data – and therefore the amount of power = control they have over us. Again, they say they need to access all our private information in order to

fight serious offenses such as crime, terrorist attacks, drug trafficking, smuggling, and sexual exploitation of children.

It’s the same old boogey-men to strike fear into the mind of every right-thinking citizen … “criminals, terrorists, drug traffickers and sexual predators are coming to get you and your family!”

Anyone ever wondered how true that is? Or, more pertinently, how likely it is that your life will be affected by serious crime, terrorism, drug trafficking or sexual perverts?

Take the big one first – terrorism. How much threat do you feel under from terrorist attack? If you read newspapers, listen to news channels or pay attention to imminent threat levels published by governments I could forgive you having an elevated level of fear.

So let’s look at the statistics. We’ll use the ones at website https://ourworldindata.org/terrorism. These show that in the past two decades the worst year for terrorism worldwide was 2014. In that year, 22,717 people died as the result if terrorist acts. In the same year 22,711 people suffered injuries from such attacks. So, in total 45,428 people were killed or injured by terrorists in the worst year on record over the past two decades.

A little perspective. In 2014 the world population was about 7.3 billion. So … the chances of any one person on the planet being killed or injured by a terrorist attack in the worst year on record were 0.000622301% or put another way 1 in 161,000 during the entire year. On any given day your chaces of being involved in a terrorist attack are better than i in 58 million – against!

But that’s right across the world. Look closer at the figures and you’ll see that the majority of terrorist attacks take place in areas you might expect – the Middle East in particular.

So, in 2014, there were 26 fatal casulaties in the USA and 4 injuries in the UK. So, if you live in the U,S, your daily chance of being involved in a terrorist attack is 1 in 281 million. You have a better chance of winning a lottery.

I am far from diminishing the horror, pain and grief of those who have been affected by terrorism, wherever in the world they and their families are. I cannot imagine how it must be to be a victim of terrorism or the friend or family member of a victim. So please forgive me for simply expressing my most heart-felt sympathies and not trying to comment on your suffering.

I am making it plain that the arguments put forward by governments for their gross invasion of our personal privacy are completely fake. False. Wrong-headed. Made up. Self-serving. Untrue.

The reality is that the chances of anyone of us – no matter which part of the planet we live on – being harmed by terrorists is vanishingly small. If, like me, you live in a peaceful country the risk is so small that it can safely be ignored.

If you still doubt me, recall that in 2014 45,428 people were killed or injured worldwide by terrorists. In 2013 the World Health Organisation (http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.main.A997?lang=en) recorded 1.25 million road traffic deaths worldwide. Of these, 34,064 people were killed on the roads in the USA (23 deaths, 0 injuries from terrorism in the same year) making it 1,481 times more likely that an American citizen would die in a traffic incident than a terrorist attack. Pick almost any cause of death you can think of – air pollution: in 2016 77,550 people died as a result of atmospheric air pollution in the United States (source: http://apps.who.int/gho/data/node.main.BODAMBIENTAIRDTHS?lang=en). That’s still 1,140 times the number who died in terrorist attacks that year.

Final nail in the terrorism coffin. Terrorism is declining worldwide. The most recent figures I could find on terrorism were published in Forbes magazine in December 2018 (https://www.forbes.com/sites/dominicdudley/2018/12/05/terrorism-in-decline/) the article’s headline being “Terrorism In Decline: Number Of Deaths By Terrorist Groups Falls For Third Year In A Row“.

I could go through each of the bogey-men put up by governments in turn but life is short.

While it’s true that sexual predation is a bigger problem than terrorism (it’s somewhat difficult to obtain accurate statistics) that is a statement equivalent to saying four-leaf clovers are more common than Unicorns.

I conducted considerable research in 2008 when in the UK it was proposed that any attempt to access a website on the “banned” list published by the self-appointed guardians of Internet decency, the Internet Watch Foundation, would be automatically reported to the police by the school’s Internet provider … the police then to turn up at the school with a (by now famous) RIPA warrant demanding to know who had tried to access the site.

I’ll cut it short – it took a 30 page report to convince people that

(a) the likelihood of a paedophile walking into a public school (most are kept locked during operating hours and only authorised visitors are let in – and then only to a restricted reception area unless accompanied by staff members who have all been individually and regularly vetted by the police) in order to use a school computer or WiFi to access child pornography was about the same level of probability as I had of walking to Mars,

(b) no school in the UK of my knowledge had the kind of enterprise class, centralised login and auditable record keeping system that would allow anything but a blank stare from a head teacher confronted with the question “Who did it?“, especially

(c) as all schools used proxy servers for the very purpose of preventing access to sites on the Internet Watch Foundation’s banned list, as did their Internet providers so

(d) any such report would be false to start with so

(e) this was by far the pottiest and most wasteful proposed use of manpower and resources I had seen in my long career in the IT industry.

I relate this both to assure you that, while in no way belittling the horrific harm caused to those who do fall victim to sexual predators, I can reasonably say that the likelihood of any individual person or child becoming the victim of inappropriate sexual conduct is, yet again, vanishingly small. I speak as the father of three grown sons (who each went to public school in the UK – you know, those hot-beds of sexual deviation … er, not!) and grandfather to three delightful and utterly defenceless small grandchildren – defenceless that is apart from the common sense of their parents.

I also relate the story as a shortcut way of knocking flat another plank of the fear-mogering arguments peddled by governments for robbing us of our right to privacy.

So we come to crime. Crime covers such a broad area that it’s impossible to know what on earth is supposed to be meant here. Are governments really telling their citizens that by giving up all rights and expectations of a private life youths of ill-intent are less likely to burgle their homes, steal their cars or vandalise public property? Personally I can’t imagine any groups of amateur or hardened criminals engaging in an exchange of text messages even if encrypted saying “The job is on – we burgle number 42 at 11pm tonight!” So what “crime” are they talking up here. It must be serious crime … organised gangs.

Let’s discuss organised crimes alongside the final two planks of fear put forth by the government – because to my simple mind you can lump all three activities under the single heading of serious crime.

A reasonableness test (I love these – you can knock more daft arguments over in a few seconds by applying a little reason than you can skittles with a strike at a bowling alley),

Imagine you are a crime lord – would you prefer to

  1. Keep all communications between your gang as word to mouth
  2. Write down the big plan, pop it in an envelope and send it to a forwarding address – as – in all democratic countries it remains illegal to interfere with (which includes opening and reading) mail passing through the postal service … I confess I am bewildered why it is verboten to steam open an envelope but OK to read someone’s private email … oh, silly me … the answer is because it would take thousands of people working flat out every day to open and read a fraction of the volume of mail passing through the postal system whereas you can program a computer to pick out key words with a few clicks of a mouse – D’oh!
  3. Encrypt your message through any encryption method available on any computer in the world then print out the encrypted gobbledy-gook and post that. Tiresome but alarmingly safe.
  4. Trust your message to an encrypted message service that has possibly been “back-doored” by GCHQ or the NSA or use one of the encrypted phone apps provided by the awfully nice people at that well known protector of all things personal and private.

I can think of dozens of ways of securely passing messages between a small group (I remember the days before the Internet was invented and have probably read too many spy novels for my own good) but, for the life of me, I cannot see that breaching the entire planet’s right to privacy is going to catch hardened criminals in the planning or the act of their dastardly deeds.

So, where does that get us?

I believe we have arrived at a place called “Sanity” where the clouds of fog and confusion sprayed

  • by politicians eager to talk up voter fear in order to reassure them they are doing a wonderful job of protecting them,
  • by newspapers competing for readers with the most sensational headlines,
  • by “news” channels competimg for viewers and guilty of keeping the same awful story going for as long as possible so as to fill the vacuum of news that actually affects most people’s lives – like whether I can be bothered to cut the grass tomorrow or whether it can last another day without looking too unkempt
  • by police and security services ever eager to justify their budgets and find arguments for the need to increase them

can be seen for the bag of puffery they are. Smoke and mirrors. Nothing to see here.

Again, a reasonable test. How many terrorists does it take to cause harm to 45,000 people worldwide? Any idea? Well, let’s pick a number – a nice round one. Let’s say there are 1 million terrorists active across the globe. Scary number but their productivity rate is appalling – another way of saying the estimate is on the high side. (At this point, if you happen to work for MI6, the CIA or any other security service and would like to chip in with some accurate numbers please feel free to use the Comments section below)

The global population is currently around 7.7 billion (7,700,000,000). So the proportion of the population we estimate to be terrorists is 0.013%.

Let’s make another big assumption – that terrorists are as active users of their mobile phones and encrypted messaging apps as the average European or American teenager – so assume that the proportion of Internet traffic they create is equal to their population proportion. Then understand that 56% of current Internet traffic is spam email (truly frightening, no? Even my little email servers get hit by thousands of spam attacks every day) so (roughly – we’re just estimating here) halve the amount of Internet traffic generated by terrorists to arrive at the staggering fact that probably less than 0.006% of the traffic passing through the Internet might be generated by terrorists.

That figure is six thousandths of 1% folks.

As I said, vanishingly small.

Let’s summarise

If 0.013% of the global population are terrorists then that means that over 99.8% of the global population aren’t – and that still leaves plenty of room for all the serious criminals to fit inside the 0.787% of the population we left unaccounted for (a mere 606 million people – a figure larger than the entire population of the United States).

As a concerned, honest citizen, tax-payer and solver of many a complex puzzle may I suggest that all the self-interested groups named above get themselves gone to a far off island as soon as possible and stop bothering the rest of us.

As I am quite sure none of them are going to do that and I doubt that a suggestion that the problems of terrorism, crime in general, drug trafficking, smuggling (er, that’s just avoiding tax, isn’t it?) and sexual offences might be better dealt with by a focussing of resources on the pretty easily identified members of the population involved in those activities we are forced to ask why governments seek to scare the life out of us all in order to excuse their taking of our rights to privacy and a private life – including private communication.

BIG question!

What is the real reason governments want to ban use of encryption by the public?

It is cleary nothing to do with the scare-mongering boogey-men repeatedly trotted out.

I think the answer is simple and the clues are spread throughout this article:

  • information is power
  • power is control
  • politicians of all flavours live for power and control
  • if the Internet hadn’t come along, reading everybody’s mail, following everybody around wherever they went, listening in to all their phone calls etc., etc. would require more people than there are in the entire population
  • BUT the Internet did come along … and beside it technologies like key word searches, digital CCTV, face recognition, automatic number plate recognition, WiFi beacons, Bluetooth beacons, ultrasonic beacons, GPS, metadata recording our every move, website visited and phone call placed – all wrapped up in a package called our “profile” which through the magic powers bestowed by AI driven prejudiced assumption can tell someone else more about us than we know ourselves. So what if most of the profile is utter guff? People will pay and it can still be used to manipulate those whose personal data was stolen from them in the first place.
  • Put all this in a pot with all the other tracking and monitoring technologies and out pops a toy SO attractive to politicians that they positively drool at the thought of using it.
  • With the most potent mass surveillance machine the world has ever seen sitting just under their finger tips only one problem remains – how to persuade the population to give up their hard fought for, centuries old rights to privacy as a basic human right?

BIG answer

First you get the people who first abused the Internet, weaponising it for greed – the big tech giants – to get people to sleep-walk into giving up their privacy like Jack and the Beanstalk – in return for a handful of beans in the form of shiny gadgets that make phone calls and collect emails and store all your contacts and can answer any question that pops into your head including where is the nearest Indian restaurant because the gadget knows where you are at all times, in fact is so keen to help it not only reports back to base everywhere you go and everything you do and everybody you interact with but is constantly listening 24 hours every day like an impossibly obedient dog just in case you might want to vocalise your question because your thumbs are tired after playing that fascinating free game that was silently hoovering up all your personal information and sending it to a data broker the better to serve you with enticing adverts for products you would never have known you need.

Having done that, unlike Jack don’t let them find the Goose that lays the Golden Eggs at the top of the Beanstalk, just a government ready and waiting to scare the living daylights out of them by talking up the threat of terrorists, criminals and sexual predators on every street corner – all of whom can, by some mysterious and inexplicable mechanism, be prevented from causing any harm if only you’ll allow the nice folks at the government offices to spy into the most fundamental orifices of your life.

Also known as giving up all your rights to privacy and a private life.

As for the “mishaps” that have happened in the past, just ignore them. For example, you will still find the utterly disproven statistics of the number of “paedophiles” caught in Operation Ore proudly stated on the UK Government Home Office web site – projected into the HUGE number of sexual predators just waiting to interfere with children in the UK.

Every little helps.

Stupidity of politicians

It is a truism that anything, once invented cannot be uninvented.

Just as the splitting of the atom led to the benfit of nuclear power, the problem of nuclear waste and the proliferation of nuclear bombs so the Internet grew from a few core ideas, a successful experiment and mushroomed into the giant giver of good things or biggest bucket of evil mankind has ever known,

For simple-minded politicians (or their work-for-free assistants as no politician could be bothered to read any article as long as this one) reading (or getting the bullet points) let me give you one:

  • YOU CANNOT PUT THE GENIE BACK IN THE BOTTLE

Encryption algorithms are in use in many forms all over the Internet. They almost universally exist as open source, freely available code – for the very good reason that lots of very clever mathematicians and cryptographers spend an awful lot of time trying to find flaws in them. And often they succeed – which leads to improved or totally new encryption algorithms – which are published, subjected to the same peer review and host of clever people who try to break them all over again.

So, politicians, whether you are in Australia, America, the UK or anywhere else – I have some news.

You can ban use of encryption with about the same expectation of success you have had in keeping nuclear missiles out of North Korea, India and Pakistan. Or the same glorious success you have had banning the use of ozone depleting CFC chemicals. Or the same success you all enjoyed with those climate change agreements where you all solemnly took an oath to promise that you really, really would do better at cutting back on the whole greenhouse emissions thing and you were determined (people are dying, people!) to clean up diesel particulates and polluted cities and … I could go on and on.

You are all simple folk so I’ll put it simply.

You can’t ban public use of encryption because anybody over the age of ten can download a copy of an encryption program from about a gazillion places on the Internet and just go ahead and use it.

You can go ahead and call that 10 year old kid a criminal but there’s less than a 0.013% chance that he or she has any criminal let alone terrorist intent.

So, grow up. Stop acting like the buffoons you are. Stop making stupid demands that the IT industry develop the unbreakable encryption that, er, only you can break.

Stop believing in Unicorns!

So, all is lost?

All technology is enabling.

That is a deceptively simple statement. A better statement is that all technology is capable of enabling good or evil.

From the first moment Stone Age man picked up a rock he faced a decision – whether to use it to chip away another rock to make a better tool – or use it to bash the brains out of his neighbour. When the hammer came along, same choice – drive in nails more efficiently – or crack someone’s skull open?

So it is with the Internet and all the wondrous, marvels of technology that surround it. Shall we use it for good or evil?

Is the Internet to be the force for good, bringing people who could never possibly meet together to exchange information and ideas, learn new things and advance their lives?

Or is the Internet to be the force of evil, allowed to become the weaponised mass surveillance machine aimed squarely at each of us and the generations that succeed us?

All is NOT lost.

It is for us – simple citizens with votes and minds to decide whether we allow politicians to take away our privacy or whether we tell them to go jump in the lake.

My advice? Encrypt everything you can. Remember that your privacy is your basic human right. It is enshrined in law and there is no difference between expectation of privacy when you post a physical letter and when your son or daughter posts you a photo of your four month old grandchild splashing happily in the bath via an encrypted messaging app.

Remember – PRIVACY IS YOUR RIGHT

The only lawful way that any government or government official can deny your right to privacy is enshrined in the common legislation already quoted:

This might include reasons like protecting national security or public safety, preventing crime or protecting the rights of other people.”

So, unless someone can show a good reason to suspect that you have intent or are involved in threatening national security, public safety, intend to commit crime or deny the legitimate rights of other people – just tell your government to get lost.

Note that I put part of that last sentence in bold to emphasise that it is the government’s duty to demonstrate there is reasonable suspicion of wrong-doing on your part. That doesn’t mean it’s legal to just pick you out of a line and insist you hand over your social media history and the keys to your phone you know, that gadget that spends its time recording your entire life.

Your forebears fought long and hard over centuries to get your right to privacy enshrined in law. It’s now under threat like never before. Stand up for it or face a truly dystopian future.

The choice is yours – not theirs.

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