BY LAUREN WEINSTEIN
It’s always illuminating when the longtime enemies of security and free speech come out from the shadows, making their intentions and sensibilities crystal clear for all to see and understand.
Nope, I’m not talking about terrorists of whatever stripes — we’ve always known how criminal scum like that thinks and how they desire to remake the world in the image of their tiny minds and 13th century mindsets.
Nor am I speaking of Putin, Kim Jong-un, Ali Khamenei, Xi Jinping, or the like — the iron fist with which these leaders desire to control speech and suppress domestic dissent is all too obvious even at a glance.
No. I’m painfully forced to note the new threat matrix aimed squarely at shedding our free speech and security rights that is spewing squarely from Western governments — from the U.S., U.K, and across the length and breadth of Europe.
It’s tempting to suggest that this renewed push to strip us of these fundamental rights was triggered by the recent devastating terrorist attack in Paris — but that horrendous event serves only as an excuse for a long simmering, long sought crackdown on Internet speech and security that has been smoldering for ages.
Going all the way back to 1993 and the fiasco of the proposed U.S. “Clipper Chip” reveals the U.S. intelligence community’s fear of strong cryptography. And today, the EU’s enthusiastic embrace of the nightmarish “Right to Be Forgotten” concept, and their push to apply that EU censorship system across the entire world, gives us clues to European motives along these lines.
So for anyone really paying close attention to these matters, the dots were already pretty much in place, certainly sufficiently so that the latest proposals from Western leaders shouldn’t come as any kind of significant surprise.
And those repulsive proposals have been arriving hot and heavy over the last few days.
President Obama is reportedly to offer a vast expansion of criminal penalties for “computer hacking” broadly defined, and as part of that legislative package also to vastly expand the definition of hacking in the process.
If you thought the late Aaron Swartz really had the book thrown at him by DOJ, the new proposals would likely make that look like a paperback novel compared with a wall of ancient encyclopedias dumped on the heads of future defendants.
The details we’ve heard so far reportedly suggest that at the discretion of prosecutors, merely clicking the wrong link on a public site, or conducting perfectly legitimate cybersecurity research, could net you being shackled in a federal cell for a decade or more.
But it gets worse.
Western leaders, led by David Cameron of the UK, appear poised to demand that all Internet communications be subject to data retention and monitoring by governments, and that no applications be permitted to deploy encryption that the government could not disable or defeat on demand. Prime Minister Cameron has said this explicitly of late, and is seeking support from other European leaders and President Obama for this disastrous concept.
Let’s be crystal clear about this. While the initial discussion might revolve around instant messaging apps, it’s obvious that the logical and inevitable extension of this concept is to require the undermining of all Internet encryption. Email. PGP. SSL/TLS. The works.
And what you can’t backdoor or otherwise undermine you simply outlaw, with criminal penalties draconian enough to scare off all but the most dedicated or masochistic of free speech and security activists.
The word “security” is critical here, because while these leaders are claiming that such proposals would enhance security to “protect us from the terrorists” — in reality the proposed decimation of the foundational structures of cryptographic systems would put all of us — our personal information, our power systems, our industrial facilities, and so many other aspects of our lives — at the mercy of cyberattacks newly enabled by such weakened and so inevitability exploitable encryption ecosystems.
Without any exaggeration, this may easily be the most serious threat to Internet security — and so to the entire global community that now depends on the Internet for so many facets of our lives — since the first ARPANET messages clattered over a teletype at UCLA decades ago.
Legitimate and measured means to fight against the scourge of terrorism are essential. But those do not include trying to convert the secure communications of law abiding citizens — billions of them — into “tap on demand” portals for government snoops, no matter how ostensibly laudable or graphically terrifying those officials attempt to frame their arguments.
We’ve all come to expect the “government owns your communications” propaganda from Putin and his ilk.
To hear the same sort of twisted reasoning — no matter how candy coated or sprinkled with excuses — flinging forth from our Western leaders is disheartening in the extreme, and must not be accepted without vigorous challenge, debate, and due consideration for the enormous damage such proposals could easily wreak on us all.
I am a consultant to Google — I speak only for myself, not for them.