Without strong encryption, government can pretty reliably track virtually every personal datum we possess

War is peace. Peace is war. To protect your privacy, we must be able to read all your private communications.

Remember Big Brother in George Orwell's 1984? Big Brother didn't have a problem turning reason and truth upside down in the pursuit of a paranoid's utopia. And the sworn protectors of that cradle of freedom and democracy, the US, don't seem to be far from offering the same kind of "logic".

America's top law-enforcement officials are making the case that to protect citizens and their privacy, the government needs to keep away from them the tools that assure privacy.

After all, we citizens may be up to bad things. We may be criminals or terrorists; so, reason the Feds, they need to be able to read what we write, and read what's written about us, whenever they think that's a good idea.

That's why the top US government agencies don't want to see public use of strong encryption on the Internet. The Feds want encryption restricted to forms that are feeble, or which contain an "escrow key" that allows the government (or anybody else who gets their hands on the escrow key) to snoop.

Uncle Sam wants to be able to see things we write - love letters, cheques, credit card transactions - and things that are written about us on health records, legal records, job-performance reviews, letters from Mum and from others, who may be a whole lot more interesting. All of these can now pass over the Net.

It gets even scarier than Big Brother sifting through stuff that may be a bit embarrassing. Big Brother was a two-bit piker compared with modern surveillance. Technologies exist today that can correlate seemingly unrelated data points about individuals against larger sets of data generated by whole populations. Such correlations can use seemingly innocent data, such as credit card purchase records, to reveal, with a high probability, information such as our political leanings, sexual orientation, income and current whereabouts.

Without strong encryption, people in the government (and elsewhere) can pretty reliably track virtually every personal datum we possess. If we're even minimally engaged in the current world, our unencrypted records make our lives an open book. Never in history has humankind been so widely and voluminously recorded, transcribed, invoiced, debited, credited, cross- referenced, databased and archived.

If you live in the West, somewhere other than, say, a camouflaged bivouac 40 miles outside of Nowhere, North Dakota, your daily acts result in an electronic trail that, with a little manipulation, can yield the most private details of your life.

Why worry, you say. I'm a law-abiding person, with nothing to fear. Oh, really?

People in government are people just like us. They can make mistakes, just as we do. They can even be the heinous criminals they're supposed to be protecting us against.

In fact, in my lifetime, American government officials at every level, the presidency included, have shown themselves not to be above using the powers of their office for personal gain.

A future Richard Nixon would not have to rely on breaking into the opposition's offices. Every opponent's campaign plan (not to mention their health and legal records) would be no farther away than the nearest escrowed encryption key.

And even if the Feds keep their noses clean, their insistence on second- class encryption for the masses means the bad guys, who, by definition, aren't particularly worried about ethical constraints, will find it easier to get hold of the same sort of information.

It doesn't help that the agencies which are railing loudest against strong encryption are the very ones that have the least oversight in the US federal pantheon. The National Security Agency is one of the least publicly accountable organisations in Washington. The shadowy NSA loudly makes the case for strong encryption to be blocked, lest terrorists and the ever-to-be-mistrusted "foreign element" get their blood-drenched mitts on it.

Am I missing something here? Does the NSA really think that making something illegal will keep terrorists from using it? That the same individuals who bomb department stores, blow airliners out of the sky and spray men, women and children at ticket counters with machine-gun fire, are going to be deterred from encrypting their messages because the Feds thinks it's a good idea?

And why do I think that making strong encryption illegal will keep only the law-abiding from using it?

But maybe these guys really believe their own logic. I should take a leaf from Big Brother's book.

Psst ... hey spooks! Stronger encryption is weaker. A weaker threat to privacy, that is. Encrypt it, and pass it onn

cg@gulker.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Sauce Recruitment: FP&A Analyst -Home Entertainment

    £250 - £300 per day: Sauce Recruitment: (Rolling) 3 month contractA global en...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales and Account Manager - OTE £80,000+

    £40000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - Kent - £40,000

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Junior Web Developer - ne...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Team Leader / Chargehand

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a Chargehand to join ...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project