This post is over a year old, its content may be outdated.

Matt Wilcox

Musing

Nov 03rd 2015

UK Government, encryption, and you

The government is intending to eradicate privacy from all its citizens. Many members of the government are likely too ignorant of the actual ramifications of this 'technical stuff' to realise the magnitude of the problem.

UK Governement to ban encryption

The government is eradicating privacy from all its citizens.

The Telegraph reports that Cameron wants to push through new laws this Wednesday which effectively ban working encryption. The point of encryption is to ensure only the originator and people that they trust can see information. The government wants access to all digital information, and to do so they are breaking encryption by banning encryption that works.

The government pretends that there is a distinction between 'advanced' encryption and ... whatever else they think encryption is. There is not. If encryption can be broken by a third party - such as the government, or the device manufacturer - then it is broken. What the government want is broken encryption.

This is appallingly stupid on so many levels because so much of human life is based on trust and privacy.

The government wants a world without real privacy for its citizens. It wants you to believe that 'robust oversight' is protection enough for your privacy. Because, of course, no corrupt officials exist. And no government would act in a poor way with regard to its citizens.

Why this is a nightmare scenario

Imagine if in the 1930's the German government had found ways to record the hourly activity of every member of its state, and no citizen could evade such recording. Imagine that it had searchable records of citizen activity stretching back for at least one year, and that those records showed - for every citizen - what businesses they visited, what houses they visited, where they bank, where they went to church, who they met, who they talked to. Additionally, that government was able to access any and all documentation and letters within the house no matter how secret they might have been. The government makes it clear though, that it usually doesn't contain the actual conversations you had at those places it knows you were at and who you were with while you were there. But that it might be able to get that full conversation too, if it asks for that information from the landowner - who has it recorded, because they're compelled to by law.

If that alone doesn't scare the hell out of you, imagine that over the next few years - entirely unexpectedly - the Nazi party rose to power and inherited that system.

That is exactly where we find the UK. Creating systems and tools that have unprecedented ability to wreak havoc on citizens when used in the wrong hands... and no ability to guarantee what hands such a system will be in, now, or in a few years.

Promising 'robust oversight' fixes none of that. The tools are inherently problematic because they offer overwhelming power to whoever uses it.

The justifications

As always, this is displayed as a method to combat terrorism, child abuse, and secretive cabals hiding in dark places.

Stripping privacy from everyone's lives can be used for that. But for me, that is not strong enough justification for tools of this magnitude. Our government is ruled by fear, and does not see how the steps it pushes as protections are as terrifying as anything an external force could inflict.

The fundamental issue

The government believes it should have access to everything, everywhere, whenever it needs to. Because it believes its job is to guarentee the protection of all citizens 100% of the time.

Ostensibly it appears that the government think that if they have a record of everything that ever happens to any of its citizens, they can stop terrorism and crime.

The problem is a lack of balance. These tactics are so far to one extreme that it seems everything that makes life in the UK enviable is being sacrificed in the name of protection. The government uses the idea of a safe strong and good Britain to convince us of the necessity of using such tools to guard those Britishisms... but by using these tactics there will be nothing British left to protect. Just a group of people eternally spied on, hoping the next government doesn't decide to use those tools in ever more invasive ways.

And they think they can avoid scope creep and unfair uses by 'robust oversight' - which really just means a few people casting an eye over whatever request has been made and saying yes or no. Would you trust that? I wouldn't. And scope creep is already happening.

Scope creep

If you think this sort of thing is only to be used in very specific high profile important matters, consider that the taxman and council are to have access to your full browsing history. Because the taxman and local council are all about stoping terrorists...

What else would be useful for the government to have? How about full records of your cars GPS - that's more meta-data for the pot right there. I can see that happening in the next decade quite easilly, especially with self-driving cars that happen to be networked most of the time.

Take action

If you agree that something needs to be done to stop such easily abused and over-arching powers, please go to https://www.writetothem.com and use that service to contact your local MP. Thank you.