Attorney General William Barr has put a strong argument forward to create an access route to bypass cyber encryptions across all electronic communication.
Well, it isn’t really a strong argument, it’s the same argument for broaching the walls of privacy. This argument has been echoed over and over across judicial bodies across the world, especially across America, and most vigorously pushed forward by the FBI. The U.S. is far from alone in their cry for extended powers. Countries such as the U.K. suggested a ‘ghost protocol’ earlier this year which would give law enforcement access to all encrypted communications.
The tech giants: Apple, Google, Microsoft and WhatsApp have all rejected this proposal.
The argument is the following: the personal risk to your data is worth the increased abilities of law enforcement to increase criminal detection. In other words, we need access to all your data and conversations to help law enforcement do their job. If you have nothing to hide, what do you care anyway?
Before we give away the right to our personal space, conversations and personal relationships so quickly, there are key questions we should ask:
1:Do encryption backdoors make police investigations more effective anyway?
Does everyone remember the San Bernardino 2015 debacle between the FBI and Apple? When Apple was legally compelled to create a software allowing the FBI to access the written conversations between the shooters and other terrorist threats from their network. A day before the hearing, the FBI found a third-party who was able to unlock a terrorist phone and uncovered absolutely nothing contributing to the investigation.
The US Attorney General and the FBI are putting a large burden on tech companies to do substantially more to assist the authorities in gaining access to all manner of criminal networks. A good question to ask is, how many times throughout history has a government been given a little too much power, just for that power to be abused? The answer is overwhelmingly yes.
Apple has asserted that writing software to decrypt the iPhone 5 was in violation of the 1stamendment. Apple has further argued that the FBI has not utilized the NSA to build these capabilities, instead of strong-arming our beloved tech companies into going against their customers interests.
2: Why were the messages so encrypted in the first place?
Encrypted messaging has blown up in recent years, across FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) products. Most importantly, encrypted messaging has become a serious topic within app use, including: Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. This is a clear retaliation from Silicon Valley due to the abuse of access revealed by the intelligence services in the Edward Snowden affair of 2013. Critics of the backdoor, which include lawmakers and security experts stress that there is no possibility of a secure “backdoor” access to encrypted communications for law enforcement alone. This would render encrypted messages more vulnerable to everyone.
The Attorney General has argued that this risk is far more acceptable as although the consumers security may be degraded, their public safety will be upgraded. Barr did not rule out pushing legislation to force tech companies to build backdoors.
This pushback between tech companies to increased law enforcement powers is an argument that keeps on coming to the stage of ugly confrontations. We have at this stage to ask ourselves if this debate isn’t more about a power struggle than anything else.
Does our right to privacy really have to come into conflict with our safety as the Attorney General suggests? Can we really trust the tech companies to keep safe our data privacy? In a country where everyone has their own agenda, could these companies eventually give up our data?
We, as both consumers and as the public at large, have a right to these questions and of course, the answers.