Encryption For All! Or Just Those Who Can Use It?

(source Flickr)

I have for many years been a proponent of strong encryption systems to protect peoples privacy and to secure things like financial information from prying eyes. After the revelations brought about by Edward Snowden it came t the forefront for some time in terms of the average computer user understanding the need for these systems. But as with most things in the media today the thought and care for this topic has waned after the news cycles stop focusing on it.

Yesterday Apple CEO Tim Cook posted a letter to customers outlining why they will not abide by a court order to help circumvent the security on the San Bernardino terror suspects iPhone. This has reignited the discussion on creating back-doors in software and encryption systems to allow the government to gain access to users devices/files.

This is somewhat new legal ground and is an important discussion to have both legally and morally. But the truth of the matter when it comes to strong encryption technologies they are already in the wild and in strong numbers. Hosted in many different countries and easy to use in many cases. For many years the US government and other governments have tried to put back-doors in these systems. But this ship has sailed and no one can put that genie back in its bottle.

Just a search of GitHub has over 6000 repositories with “encryption” in the name with over 15million mentions of the word in source code. There are also numerous open source and for profit apps that use strong encryption to protect users privacy. There is no guarantee that if Apple unlocks the suspects phone that he did not use other apps to encrypt data or communications with potential co-conspirators.

So what are we to do? I can be argued that your phone is not a black box but it really comes down to how savvy the owner of that phone is. I can take an iPhone (or Android phone) and encrypt the entire phone and only use apps that encrypt my data being transferred. Yes, I am an advanced user but just searching for how to do these things can easily walk you through the process.

It is yet to be seen how other tech giants respond to the FBI’s request to Apple but so far the response from the other largest tech company, Google has been dull at best.  This all may very well be the beginnings of serious legal precedents that will effect the privacy and security of people for generations to come.