Just a few days ago, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that he wants to “ensure that terrorists do not have a safe space in which to communicate.” While that may sound like a great idea, Cameron aims to accomplish this goal by banning strong encryption. This proposal has received a lot of backlash, and rightfully so.
Before diving into the idea put forth by David Cameron let’s quickly discuss what encryption actually is, and how its implementation is relevant to the average internet user.
Encryption has shaped the online world
With the rapid progression of our digital world, we are doing more and more on the internet. From shopping our favorite marketplaces to online banking, we rely on encryption to keep all of our transactions secure and our information private. In short, encryption is a way of keeping your sensitive personal information secure. This is done by scrambling your data in such a manner that only the person with the key can decode it.
And while Cameron claims that “Britain is not a state that is trying to search through everybody’s emails,” an encryption ban is now in the cards – and there is a lot of opposition.
James Ball, a writer for The Guardian, wrote that such a ban on encryption would likely “spell the end of e-commerce” in the United Kingdom since online stores use encryption to securely transfer credit card information.
Besides killing off the appeal of online shopping, there are many other issues that come with banning encryption. For example, millions of activists, journalists, and whistleblowers all over the world are using software such as VPNs with strong encryption to communicate sensitive information. If this ban passes in the UK then all such software will be made illegal. If this is the case, then many UK journalists would be breaking the law by communicating with their sources securely.
UK heading towards a communist state
Additionally, if this ban is ever actually implemented, then the level of internet filtering required would be similar to that of Iran, Syria, and Russia. Even then, experts seem to agree that what Cameron is proposing is not possible in practice. A highly respected security expert, Bruce Schneier, says that it “is simply not possible to ban strong encryption within a country and software that uses strong encryption from crossing its borders.” There is nothing stopping people from installing the software they want on the devices that they own. At best, this bill will only prevent law-abiding and rather non-technical people from using strong encryption.
There are too many technological challenges that will prevent this proposed piece of legislature from taking off. It’s unlikely that any company that practices strong encryption will let up and agree to provide a back door. This is dangerous ground, considering that if Apple provides a back door to the UK, then why not to Russia or China? It’s also important to understand that there is no such thing as a back door only law enforcement can access. There are only two options – a secure system that neither law enforcement nor criminals can penetrate, or option two – a system with a back door that anyone with the know-how can access.
It’s also worth noting that every country that has previously tried to implement similar policy has failed. Cameron should take note from the failures of other (largely communist) nations and save the UK some money. After all, experts claim that Cameron’s proposal threatens to “destroy the internet.”