The French terrorist attacks at the end of last week are likely to remain in mind for some time to come. There will be repercussions and fallout associated with these events and my heart and mind goes out to the victims of these crimes. Going forward, however, one of the potential changes has been highlighted by UK newspaper The Independent, which cites how British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is planning to make encrypted messaging applications illegal should he be re-elected. In his words, "In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which […] we cannot read?" and made a connection between encrypted communications that may be intercepted and read by security services in extreme circumstances with a warrant from the home secretary. What applications use encrypted technology? WhatsApp, Snapchat and iMessage are three not-so-obvious names, along with those that purport to be encrypted such as Telegram. The issue is that businesses such as WhatsApp have stepped up their encryption systems in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations regarding the NSA surveillance abilities.
Various privacy groups have criticized attempts to remove encryption under the security umbrella: many such tools are used by people in oppressed countries or victims of crime in order to stay safe. And Governments presumably don't want to check up on our messages to loved ones about what might be for supper that evening, but instead must have reasonable cause to check up on our activities? Depending on who you talk to, deviating from your routine can be "reasonable cause," or perhaps stirring my coffee three times one way and only once in the opposite way rather than twice? David Cameron's statement includes his pledge to revive the "snoopers' charter," designed to help security services spy on current internet communications. The subject is too deep to go into any great detail, but at what point do we value our privacy and at what point do we value our safety? I do not advocate accepting that certain things are unstoppable and that they, whoever they are and whatever their motives are, will always find a way. But I also lock my door when I leave my home and reasonably expect it to be intact when I return.
Following the riots in 2011, technology was seen as a scapegoat for allowing rioters to plan their next move and in particular, BlackBerry's BBM was blamed because it was essentially untraceable. At the time, BlackBerry cooperated with the authorities but it will only release customer information with a court order and will not hand over bulk data. Quite rightly so, but let us not forget that the technology is but a tool. Surely, Governments' efforts might be better off directed at the root cause rather than the means?