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On the necessity for strong encryption to remain legal

This article was been published more than 6months ago. The information contained herein may be outdated.

Some time ago, I had yet another induhvidual claim that some policy of the security establishment was only bad for criminals, and that those who had nothing to hide also had nothing to fear. I can’t find the original context, but I am fairly certain it had something to do with US authorities and their bumbling handling of the now infamous San Bernadino iPhone. Whatever the context was, the induhvidual in question praised Donald Trumps support of proposals to outlaw strong encryption methods, making the aforementioned argument.

There are a number of counter arguments to this wholly reprehensible stance. Some attack the assumption that law-abiding citizens do not need encryption, others that criminals have something to fear. Let’s start with the latter:

Making something illegal does not mean that criminals will stop using it, and claiming so is laughably stupid. The legality of something is completely irrelevant to whether or not they will do it or not. Had forbidding something been enough, there would be no drug dealers, traffickers or rapists. Yet they all exist. Laws alone are not preventative measures. Without enforcement of laws, the laws themselves become meaningless, and a number of laws are meaningless despite their being enforced.

Equally stupid is the assertion that law-abiding citizens do not have need for secrecy. While my email accounts contain no illegal correspondence, I would not want it to be publicly available. Likewise, my medical records are wholly devoid of illegalities, but that doesn’t mean that I want everyone to know their contents. By the same token; my money is my business. How I spend it is equally my business, and while my bank statements are supremely mundane, I still wouldn’t want them to be public.

It all boils down to the basic human right of privacy, defined (among many other places) in article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

And there you go. It’s right there, in the second sentence; the protection of the law against such interference runs directly counter to legislation forbidding strong encryption. The onus of protecting my privacy is on me, not on the government. Their part of it is enabling me to do so, but it is up to me how I choose to protect said privacy, within the law.

Finally, the assertion that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear; that statement is insulting, and degrading to the millions of men, women, and children who have become victims of genocides for no reason other than being the Other. Whether Jewish under Nazi Germany, connected to the former government under the Khmer Rouge, or Tutsi under the Rwandan genocide; their only crime was being the Other. For that, they were brutally murdered.

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