The Encryption Argument

The Snowden revelations left us untrusting of our governments. Although the information released was mainly NSA specific it raised questions about government tracking in general.

850,000 NSA contractors have access to the data GCHQ collects on us and it uses over 1,000 machines to process, and make available to analysts, more than 40 billion pieces of our content daily. It is therefore no surprise that there is speculation as to whether or not government officials should be allowed exceptional access to our messages and online lives: “With peoples lives and liabilities increasing online, the question of whether to support law enforcements demands for guaranteed access to private information has a special urgency, and must be evaluated with clarity.” This is where encryption comes in. The ethics behind encryption are incredibly complex: it protects our privacy, but it also infringes on law enforcements’ ability to protect us.

It’s easy to understand the approach to the debate around encryption with a stern belief that we are entitled to our privacy. Nonetheless, there are instances where this type of privacy results in an inability to achieve justice. The New Yorker recently exemplified this through an unresolved court case in which a father of six was shot dead and the killer remained at large despite evidence left at the scene. Due to Apple and Google being unable to share data due to privacy clauses, they could not unlock the smartphones found at the scene of the crime without the passcode. Even with a warrant, data extractions cannot be performed as the files within their phones are protected by an encryption key, which is linked to the user’s passcode. Surely, this is the type of situation where our privacy is less significant than gaining justice?

For day-to-day activities, encryption is still relevant. We are under constant surveillance in the UK: if we aren’t being captured on CCTV, we are having our internet data pooled and phone activity recorded. This is why encrypted messages and files are not only secure, but vital to our intellectual privacy and property: “Fundamentally, intellectual privacy stops our lives from becoming completely transparent, leaving room for diversity, eccentricity and being able to think for ourselves.” Encryption provides us with the right to free speech in the digital world.

As with all of these data privacy arguments, individuals need to weigh up the pros and the cons to form an opinion. Legislation like the proposed re-introduction of the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ by Theresa May makes the debate relevant to all of us, so it’s worth exploring where the greater danger lies.

Our private i exhibition will take place at 31 New Inn Yard, EC2A 3EY and will be on from Friday 25th – Monday 28th September, 10am – 6pm.