encryption in politics and just not getting it

Before I get started, I think that all the politicians from both sides of the aisle are perhaps only briefed on one side of any issue before they get out in public to talk about it.  The side of the issue that they are briefed on probably does change depending on the audience or perhaps based on the beliefs of their backers.

I just read an article in Ars Technica suggesting that Hillary Clinton is perhaps having a hard time remembering all the people who might possibly use encryption.

The low hanging fruit about encryption is that bad people such as terrorists or paedophiles may like to use it to keep their activities secret.  It is hard to see what they are doing in the before stages of naughty behavior and hard to prove what they have done after the naughty behavior has taken place.

It might be because politicians or even governments think that the only actors in the play of encryption are the naughty and the nice individuals.  The nice, by definition, have nothing to hide so weakening the encryption doesn’t really affect them at all, and it makes the job of the police much easier for dealing with the naughty people.

Yet, politicians don’t want to make the case of weakening encryption as that sounds bad even to people who are not completely aware of all the issues.  Perhaps the only solution is to actually have strong encryption and work behind the scenes on how to break it.

<politicans view>
Of course, we could have a regular Manhattan-like project to focus the attention of the nations top scientists to break the encryption.  It would be the perfect solution, the well meaning nice people’s data would be protected from other nice people and the police would be able to “read the mail” of the naughty people or scan through their hard disks when preparing court cases against them.

How could we have missed this?  Its perfect.
</politicans view>

What could be wrong with that?  It doesn’t take into account that the government also exists and would have to be either the good guy or the bad guy in certain circumstances.  The optimist says of course that the governments are the good guys.

Reviewing the previous paragraphs, the good guy in this case is our government and although it has nothing to hide may choose to encrypt their secrets.  It is hard to see what they are doing in the before stages of some specific activity or mission and hard to prove what they have done after the activity or mission has taken place.  Don’t worry their secrets are safe as everything is encrypted.

Yet some other government may view our government as the bad guy and have interest in what kinds of activities or missions are done or how we perform them.  Are our secrets safe?  Maybe.  Other governments constantly see bad players out there they are constantly having Manhattan-like projects designed to break our codes.

A knife can be used to cut food, or stab a co-worker.  A photo copier can be used make office copies or to infringe on other people’s copyrights.  Fertilizer can be used to make food grow or build a bomb.  Encryption just like every other tool or technology can be used for good or to protect nefarious activities.

I understand the governments desire to sift through a criminal’s digital papers looking for the smoking gun to help make the case a slam dunk.  Yet, despite living in the era of DNA and gas chromatography perhaps not every detail in all cases need or can be proven to nine significant digits.  Unfortunately, with some limited amount of help and some serious paranoia it is possible to live and coordinate activities without being caught – that is without even using special technology.  If you doubt me, think of the Osama bin laden case.

Anything one government can do to read the secrets of its people can be used by other governments to read our governments secrets.  It is impossible to have the best people all the time, impossible to keep all technologies secret all the time and implausible that all other peoples or governments will be always behind us in every technical way.

With an ever increasing digital world, strong encryption should be the norm despite the knowledge a handful of bad people exist and may use it to their benefit.


Update 2016-01-19

Perhaps governments do understand the limitations, but the ability to check up on their citizens is too good of an opportunity to pass up.

A similar analysis quite eloquently described.


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