After the tragic events in Paris last week, the continuing debate over internet privacy and encryption gets a prominent and poignant voice. Although not supported by evidence, it is suspected that some form of encrypted communication may have aided ISIS in coordinating the attacks on Paris.
Updated 30th Nov 15
A Wall Street Journal article references the use of SMS messaging as a possible medium used for coordinating the attacks (Full article HERE)
The debate surrounding encryption had been raging long before the internet was in your pocket. It centres on the the amount of access governments should have to private data sent over the internet. Those in favour, of allowing governments to have access, argue that allowing them to view and search private information enables them to more effectively disrupt terrorist activities and protect the public.
Those who argue for not providing governments with easy access to encrypted data via ‘backdoors' focus on the fact that, ensuring everyone’s data is secure keeps it from those who would want to steal the information and use it to support or facilitate an attack. The ITIC, the global voice of the tech sector, which includes tech giants such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, has released a statement encapsulating this view:
“Encryption is a security tool we rely on everyday to stop criminals from draining our bank accounts, to shield our cars and airplanes from being taken over by malicious hacks, and to otherwise preserve our security and safety,” The statement continues "Weakening security with the aim of advancing security simply does not make sense” The ITIC argues that creating ‘backdoors’ for the security services poses a potential security weakness that could be exploited by terrorist hackers.
The U.S. government is generally unhappy about the fact that many companies, including Apple and Google, offer users end-to-end encryption to improve privacy. Senator John McCain, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would require Internet products to give government officials backdoors into services.
This debate seems to be far from a conclusion as it goes to the very heart of our beliefs about the role of the state and our right to privacy. The statement from the ITIC and Senator McCain's comments effectively highlight the scope of views and the fervour with which they will be defended. In a digital age when communication is virtually instantaneous on a global level, with messages being sent, read and deleted in a heartbeat, the balance between a well informed security service and the privacy of the populous is becoming harder to reach.