Encryption Wars

Governments all over the world are terrified of losing access to what the public is talking about, warning that all sorts of doomsday scenarios will happen if they can’t snoop on our every word. This despite the fact that they have never had access to this information until arguably the widespread adoption of email from the mid-90s, and particularly since the advent of social media in the mid-00s.

Prior to that they could get a warrant and tap your phone, or perhaps try to steam open your letters, but they, with the possible exception of the NSA, couldn’t do it to all people, all the time.

The internet has provided the biggest boon to the surveillance community, with Snowden revealing the NSA’s now-relistic goal to record all the information, store it and have it searchable forever.

Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society have a good article looking at the latest attempts to get the tech platforms to minimise their use of end-to-end encryption, or to provide some other way for Governments to snoop on message contents.

But we do not live in a world where that system always stays tightly confined to CSAM [child sexual abuse material], or malware scanning, and doesn’t end up enabling censorship of individuals’ private personal conversations with other people over content that is not illegal or harmful. That already happens in China (which is increasingly an object of envy by U.S. law enforcement). China uses its online censorship capabilities to keep its citizens from using WeChat to talk about Winnie the Pooh or “Tiananmen Square”. An end-to-end encrypted messaging system that would do client-side scanning of content against a blacklist before it’s encrypted and report the positive hits? China would rush to fund that work, and likely already has.

The whole article is worth a read, but it’s important to recognise the end-goal.

The rationale may change — national security and terrorism one day, and if that doesn’t work, child abuse the next — but the goal is the same: for governments to have the ability to eavesdrop on your every conversation, the legal power to require that all your conversations be recorded, and the authority to make private-sector providers do their bidding in the process. To have total control. And, if they really succeed, they will reach the ultimate goal: to not even need to exert that control to restrict what you say and do and hear and think — because you’ll do that yourself. You will save them, and Facebook, a lot of time.