Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Deliberately Misleading, Or Just Technically Incompetent?, by Mark Chapman

Without any sense of irony, David Cameron came back from a march in Paris which was ostensibly about claiming freedom and made a speech saying that he wanted to remove everyone’s online freedom. 

Specifically he announced that he wanted to ‘remove the safe spaces online which terrorists currently use’, and that there should be ‘no form of communication which we [the Government/Police] cannot read’.

Let us leave to one side for a moment the fact that France has an even greater level of state surveillance than the UK currently has, and that the ‘failure’ (if any) of security services in not stopping the Charlie Hebdo murders was one in not following up or continuing on already known leads.

Let us instead just think for a moment about what it would mean for there to be ‘no form of communication which we cannot read’.

That is that any message from one person to another, in any form, must be able to be recorded, stored, and read by someone working for the Government.

That in itself is a very disturbing concept for anyone with a concern for civil liberties and the awareness of Government to overreach once it has such all-encompassing powers.

However, it is perhaps the more technical aspect that is more telling.

Taking the (reasonable, but unsaid) assumption that we are talking about online and digitally, there are fundamentally two ways for this to happen.

Either all communication is unencrypted, in which case it is effectively public, for anyone who intercepts it can read it.

Or the Government is able to read encrypted messages, which means the Government having the ability to either break codes, or access ‘back-door vulnerabilities’.

In asking for this ability, what David Cameron appears to have totally missed is both the critical importance that encryption plays in our lives today, as well as the ubiquitous nature of it.

The ability to send secure (i.e. encrypted) communications online is the bedrock of so much that we do online.

When ordering goods and paying for them online, we use encryption to ensure that our credit card details are only given to the vendor, and not anyone who is able to intercept that message.

Similarly, when banking online and sending our account details and payment instructions, encryption is critical to the security of those communications.

Is the Government really saying that they want the ability to intercept all our online shopping details?

he ability to encrypt, and correspondingly decrypt, messages and communications easily has been one of the major drivers behind the digital revolution over the last 15 years.

Does the Government really want us to go back to a pre-internet world?

Even more ridiculously, does Cameron suddenly expect international companies which provide global messaging services (be that Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, or just humble old email) suddenly to acquiesce to UK Government regulation to remove encryption?

Companies such as this would just refuse to provide services to the UK and continue in the rest of the world. That highlights the pointlessness of any legislation.

Just because something is illegal, doesn’t stop it from being possible.

Secure, encrypted email takes less than 10 minutes to setup on a mobile phone. It is here to stay, however much the Government might not like it.

Given the utter futility and pointlessness of any legislation, Cameron must know the pointlessness of what he is suggesting.

But he is using the situation to make an election pitch for authoritarian votes at the upcoming election.

In this case, he is deliberately misleading people as to what is or is not possible, and doing so purely for perceived electoral gain. 

Alternatively, he genuinely believes that what he is suggesting is feasible and that it would have no consequences.

That is even scarier as it shows a total lack of understanding of even the most basic of digital services and highlights the catastrophic consequences of legislating from a position of such ignorance.

In conclusion, this highlights the desperate need for us to have politicians of principle who are digitally aware and technically savvy.

Either way, David Cameron has just ruled himself out.

Mark Chapman is the Pirate Party’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Vauxhall.

1 comment:

  1. With his comments moves Cammeron on to the same technical incompetent level as the German government. But beyond that - and let's assume he knows what he is talking about - it is a clear sign of creating a police state beyond Orwell's dreams. Another step closer to 1984.