Is there a war on privacy?

Governments do not trust encrypted data.

Some high-profile names have suggested in the past few months that we encrypt absolutely everything we transmit over the Internet. The reasoning behind this proposal is that if everything is encrypted, then governments cannot apply as much scrutiny to individual messages. If we only encrypt data that we want to hide, then that data will interest them. If the data interests them, the government will easily find a way to obtain (and decrypt) it.

Last week, allegations were made that the US government paid Carnegie Mellon security researchers a large sum of money to defeat Tor’s privacy mechanisms. The federal government certainly has a history over overstepping its boundaries with surveillance, but this is an unprecedented and frightening leap toward a world without privacy.

Recent events have prompted additional concern that governments will seek to further expand their reach over our data. Interestingly, some have even blamed Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who elucidated the scale of the NSA’s surveillance program, for the attacks in Paris. Apparently the FBI’s propaganda about encryption has thoroughly convinced people that it is only used for terrorism. However, privacy-concerned users and even big tech companies are losing faith in the security of their data nonetheless.

Despite all of this, there is hope for the future. Recent court decisions have placed limits on how web histories and phone records may be tracked, and there is a proposal to ban aerial surveillance without a warrant. Presidential candidate Rand Paul has even spoken out in defense of digital privacy, saying he would not only ensure we are allowed to encrypt our data, but also that the government won’t be allowed place backdoors in our devices or in the websites we visit.

With increasing masses of evidence that government surveillance is ineffective, the nothing to hide fallacy is no longer enough to convince us to give up our privacy. It is certainly time for a change.

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Travis Mick

Travis is the chief architect of systems and software at A background in network security research has fostered in him a passion for values such as digital privacy, net neutrality, and intellectual freedom. In a world where these causes are increasingly important, he aims to both raise awareness of them and further their goals through technology.

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