With governments from various countries and parts of the world trying to push back against encryption it’s important to be reminded of why private citizens, companies, journalists and organisations would want to encrypt their data and communication. Security expert Bruce Schneier summarises the different reasons in a recent post on his blog.

“Today, we are seeing government pushback against encryption. Many countries, from States like China and Russia to more democratic governments like the United States and the United Kingdom, are either talking about or implementing policies that limit strong encryption. This is dangerous, because it's technically impossible, and the attempt will cause incredible damage to the security of the Internet.”

(The excerpts quoted in this article are taken with kind permission of the author from his own blog. Read the full text here: www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2015/06/why_we_encrypt.html)

By this Schneier pinpoints a current trend among governments and the problematic implications of it: Of course governments have an interest in intercepting communications in order to prevent or resolve crimes – but asking the manufacturing companies to weaken their products’ security by default can’t be the right solution to this. If we encrypt then we have to be serious about it. Software or an algorithm doesn’t know whether a “good” guy or a “bad” guy is using the built in security capability in a product – and even more importantly for what reason. Without security journalists, NGOs, and private companies would be put at risk of others gaining access to their sensitive information. This would render the whole idea of privacy and data protection pointless. And as Schneier puts it: “This protection is important for everyone.”

As he further explains: “It's easy to see how encryption protects journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists in authoritarian countries. But encryption protects the rest of us as well. It protects our data from criminals. It protects it from competitors, neighbors, and family members. It protects it from malicious attackers, and it protects it from accidents.”

In Schneiers opinion everyone should use encryption – not only for their own security but also for the good of those who really need it. His point is that when most communication would be encrypted those who want to access this information can’t tell which one is important and which is just simple chatting. Therefore, as Schneier argues, it would make it much more complicated for criminals and repressive regimes to access the right information of their targets. 

There is marked tension between keeping our private information private and hiding behind strong encryption in an anonymous way, regardless of your motives being good or bad. Mark Forrest, our CEO pointed out in an earlier article after he too was contacted by British government officials, that this is a topic that needs public discussing and is far from being resolved.   
Read more on the current debate and how tech companies wrote a letter to President Obama about this here.

 

About Bruce Schneier: Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned expert and author on security issues. He is Chief Technology Officer of Resilient Systems, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center, and a board member of EFF.