End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is a secure option for users, but some governments see it as an obstacle to preventing various crimes. That’s why Australia, the UK, and the US are asking tech companies to build backdoors into encrypted apps and devices. But are we ready to be spied on for the greater good, knowing that anti-encryption laws could damage human rights, businesses, and the government itself?
Australia was the first to pass an anti-encryption law at the end of 2018. Some local tech companies have already moved the stored data out of the country. By moving physical, operational, and legal jurisdiction offshore, multinational businesses sidestep the law.
As for the United Kingdom and the United States, debates about a similar ban are always in the air — even during the Covid-19 crisis. The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary unanimously approved an amended version of the “EARN IT” Act, a key step in it becoming law. Despite the decryption bill’s stated intent to crack down on child sexual abuse material, it raises significant concerns.
Many encrypted messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp, iMessage, Signal, and Wickr, are US-based. That’s why any changes would affect not only US citizens, but also users abroad.
Such restrictions can harm the domestic market. Making tech companies move abroad, they not only displace the jobs but also reduce growth and tax revenue. At the same time, they have dangerous effects against press freedom, Australia’s “Assistance and Access Act” being a case in point. It became a part of a framework that allows the police to raid the homes and offices of journalists over a few-years-old articles.
Right now, users from the US, the UK, and most other Western countries have the freedom of choice whether they want privacy, convenience, or both. With encrypted messaging apps, people are free to discuss sensitive topics — neither social media nor even email can offer that. An encryption ban would suppress free speech, which would violate human rights.
End-to-end encryption also safeguards information from third-party access. It secures information shared privately across the network, such as bank and credit card transactions. Any such ban would make it easier for hackers to steal users’ private data by exploiting loopholes in encryption. Thus, all of our global banking, credit card, and retail systems would become less trustworthy.
Everything that relies on digital operations would be affected. That ranges from communication to manufacturing and logistics, from healthcare to defense. Even the government itself is not an exception.
Providing an encryption backdoor for governmental institutions is alarming in general. Through the years, many state-owned systems have failed to safeguard sensitive information. They are among the most common targets for hackers, both individual and state-sponsored. Despite the multitude of cyber-attacks, many government databases are still not appropriately protected. So it won’t get any better when officials gain access to even more sensitive information.
If the main argument of anti-encryption laws is the safety of society, the government should consider leaving encryption as it is. The law enforcement already has its ways of acquiring the needed information without affecting the innocent. If there’s enough evidence, they already are allowed to surveil the suspects. But the possibility of decryption is dangerous and should put many people in alert.