Just because you’re not aware of something doesn’t mean it isn’t happening and going to affect you. Such is the case with encryption. Non-tech people probably hear “encryption” and tune out. It’s funny how little people care about things that they depend on. We live in a society extremely dependent on technology, populated with people who don’t know how that technology works, and governed by politicians, who also don’t know how it works, but feel that they have the right to make broad rulings on how technology is used.
If you don’t know what encryption is, it’s a technology that allows private and secure communications using math. There are different types of encryption, but the basic idea is that the communication is locked with a mathematical key that is practically impossible to break. This technology is crucial for how the internet works. You use encryption everyday without knowing it. Visiting your bank website, checking your email, buying something online, all types of services use encryption in the behind the scenes. Encryption can also be used by everyday people to send secure messages to one another.
This is where the government enters our story.
Person to person encrypted messaging became easier with a technology called PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) in the 90’s. At the time, the US Federal Bureau of Investigations freaked out. You see, the government couldn’t break PGP and spy on people. This suddenly meant that everyday people could use encryption and all the might and power of the government could not break that encryption to see what people were saying.
A government’s power rests on violence and violence can’t solve a math problem.
This wasn’t acceptable to the FBI, who simply asserted their “right” to be able to see and read everything you do.
You see, this really is at the heart of everything. Governments are simply asserting that they should have the power to see everything you do at all times. You have no privacy. No where should be safe from their gaze. British prime minister David Cameron said this week:
“…there should be no safe spaces for terrorists to communicate or that British authorities could not access.”
We know the US government feels the same way given what Snowden showed us they were doing in secret. Even local police stations feel they have the power to spy on everything you do 24/7 with their Stingray cell phone call interceptors. (If you’re unaware of this, police stations have these devices that pretend to be cell phone towers. Your cell phone always tries for the best signal and so will connect to this device, thinking it is the strongest tower. The police can then listen in on your calls in real time. No warrant. No safeguards. No privacy. It doesn’t matter if you’re in public or in your living room talking to your relatives.)
What’s the government’s defense of these practices?
“It’s for your protection and so we can catch the bad guys.”
Horseshit. Here, play a game with me. Imagine what government arguments would sound like if they weren’t able to make that excuse?
Cricket, cricket, cricket.
If, after everything that has come out in leaks about what governments actually do with this limitless power, you still believe they seriously care about your safety and legitimate law enforcement, then I’m sorry, but you’re incredibly ignorant and naive. (And that’s the nicest way I can bring myself to say that)
Governments care about their own survival. When given unchecked power, they will use that power to insure their survival. Drug dealers and money launders aren’t a threat to the government. Political dissidents are. Naturally the government is going to focus their resources on political dissidents and not criminals.
But that’s another major issue I have with the government use of this technology and people’s seeming apathy about the subject.
Who are criminals? I’m sure you’re probably picturing burglars breaking into someones house, but really, a criminal is anyone doing anything the government decides is criminal.
For example: Here’s a 90 year old man who is a criminal in Florida. He’s been arrested 3 times for his crimes and vows to keep on being a criminal. What heinous criminal activity is he doing? Feeding the homeless.
The really dangerous thing about people accepting the “to catch criminals” defense the government gives is that the meaning of “criminal” is subject to the government’s interpretation and is likely to change whenever it suits them.
Trying to tell people that the government are often the real bad guys feels like slamming your head into a brick wall. Our entire society is based around this idea that the government are the good guys. We’re raised from birth on stories of cops vs robbers. Big brother government is here to protect you. Don’t you worry your little head over it! Just suggesting to someone that maybe the police and the government aren’t always the “good guys” will get strange looks from many.
I think a big part of the problem is that a lot of people also associate law with morality. Generally speaking: Stealing and murder are both illegal and morally wrong, but it doesn’t follow that just because something is illegal that it is also morally wrong. Remember, every crime against humanity ever perpetrated by a government was legal for that government.
If you use the government as a moral compass, you’re going to have a bad time.
And so the situation we find ourselves in is one where governments, with no meaningful democratic oversight or accountability and a documented history of human rights violations and abuse of power, are asserting their right to monitor every aspect of your life at all times using technologies that most people don’t understand, while at the same time legislating laws on those technologies without fully comprehending the repercussions. Oh and most people don’t care/don’t understand/aren’t paying attention.
Yeah…let me know how that works out for ya…