Wednesday 18 November 2015
From the BBC News website:
“If you create a product that allows evil monsters … to strike innocents – whether it’s at a game in a stadium, in a small restaurant in Paris, take down an airline – that is a big problem,” Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC.
Sorry – I cheated and removed a small portion, which said “…. to communicate in this way, to behead children, …”, but you can see how it could be about guns – or bombs or other weapons. Indeed, since you could say that terrorists speak their intentions through such tools, they are indeed communicating, albeit in the stains of innocent blood.
What Feinstein was actually referrring to was encryption and there is a lot in the media this week about how, after Paris, we should be restricting the legal use of encryption in order that our trusted governments can listen in on the ‘them’ of international terrorists. What is less clear is how you qualify to be on the list of ‘them’? And, even if you are confident that you remain one of ‘us’, what about the next time you check your email or do some online shopping or banking or look up a password? All of those are processes that involve strong encryption techniques and, if they aren’t (including the one about passwords) your digital safety is at risk.
As long as there is a way to communicate, there is a way to pass hidden messages. You might be playing a parlour game where the crossing and uncrossing of your legs is what other players have to cotton on to or tying a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree; these are just a couple of examples of the numerous ways humans have devised to signal intent and pass on information coded in such a way that it hides in plain sight. If we allow legislation that compromises information security – that is, the security of our information – then we shouldn’t fool ourselves that it makes us safer. If anything, it makes it harder for the security services – at least now they can pick up traces of the communications that a suspect has sent or received even if they can’t read them while, if forced to work offline, that is another set of potential clues removed.
There was another quote from towards the end of the article from Pavel Durov, who fled Russia after the authorities there wanted backdoors into his social network:
“I propose banning words. There’s evidence that they’re being used by terrorists to communicate.”