Saturday, March 12, 2016

Why it matters

I've posted a lot about security and privacy lately and will continue to do so because I believe this could be a defining movement both in law and culture with respect to security, privacy, and surveillance (maybe Crypto Wars 2.0). It's not just the FBI's request to Apple either. Facebook could soon be clashing with the DOJ on the WhatsApp messaging application in a case regarding wiretapping. There is also activity in the U.S. Congress which is preparing to vote on a bill that would punish tech companies that refuse to cooperate with investigators, specifically on encryption. The importance of these events can't be overstated.

The importance of encryption per se can't be overstated either because it is an enabling technology that gives private citizens power against mass surveillance. John Reed at Just Security, wrote about this topic recently. He was reacting to the oft-cited yet dangerous argument that "if you don’t have anything to hide, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about." He states,
A government’s abuse of surveillance to intimidate and discredit law-abiding citizens isn’t something that happens only in places like Russia. It’s happened time and again, even in democracies as strong as the United States. Within living memory in the US alone, one can recall Nixon’s enemies, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI files on everyone who may have posed a threat to his power, COINTELPRO, and more specifically, that program’s use of surveillance to assist in attempt to ruin Martin Luther King Jr., the list goes on. There is simply no reason to think that such abuse will not occur again. So why should you care if you’re always being watched? Because your self-perceived innocence may not protect you from the kind of abuses we’ve seen repeatedly over the past century (emphasis added).
Jenna McLaughlin at The Intercept shows how Reed's comment emphasized above is all too true with respect to Black Lives Matter movement. Quoting a grassroots organizer,
"The mundane surveillance of people of color is what gives rise to bulk surveillance at a federal level … not the other way around," she said. "Whatever has been considered normal at a local level" -- including systems of suspicious activity reports, predictive policing, and other tactics -- "has now been considered normal at the federal level."
Even beyond the realm of social justice movements, the fact of the matter is is that everyone has something to hide or something in their life that they want to keep private. Reed quotes Bruce Schneier as saying that "[p]rivacy is a basic human need," and that being watched turns us into children under watchful eyes waiting to be implicated by patterns from our past lives.

This is why the fight for strong encryption and against surveillance matters.

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