Public Policy: Encrypted

The Debate

The debate around granting the government access to encrypted communications reached a new level when the Department of Justice demanded Apple help them break the encryption of an iPhone connected to a terrorist.

The larger discussion about encryption has settled into a few common arguing points:

Give the government access

  • Help our law enforcement agencies catch criminals
  • We’ve never had totally unbreakable safes before

Don’t Break Encryption

  • You can’t have a back door for only certain parties
  • The encryption genie is out of the bottle

Something Less Philosophical

These are truly Important arguments, but there remains an unfortunate element of “encryption is for criminals” that is completely unnecessary. Instead, there is an issue that makes the debate fall entirely in one direction, and should sway people to view the use of encryption as common sense: jurisdiction.

Think of the most secure vault in the world. Is it truly uncrackable? The aim of virtually all physical security systems is to delay access until more security can arrive, or make access so conspicuous and inconvenient that, again, more security will arrive before the criminals have absconded with the loot.

To connect this tangible point of comparison to electronic security, the problem we have today is that many of those we might dub criminals are not within reach of our law enforcement mechanisms. Additional security will never arrive to apprehend the thieves because the thieves aren’t lifting a bank vault out of the ground with a crane. They are not speeding off in a getaway car. They are not in need of medical attention due to the guard dog that bit them.

What we do when we connect a computer to the Internet is store our safe in the darkest alley of the most foreign country you can imagine. So how secure do you want that safe to be?

Practically Personal

The passion of the pro-cryptography side does not have to rely on a fear of government overreach: the FBI’s request will make us all more vulnerable to crimes that they are not responsible for policing. The plea to make their job easier may be entirely valid in your mind, but what about your job of protecting yourself from those outside the FBI’s sphere of influence?