18 May 2006

Openness vs. Privacy

There's an interesting tension between openness and privacy: openness is good except when it might infringe on justifiable privacy. This makes matters of privacy, and hence encryption, a kind of obverse to openness. So legislation like the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is something that I've followed even before it was introduced in 2000.

I hadn't realised that part of that Act - that deals with disclosure of encryption keys - was not yet in force. As this news item explains, the UK Government is threatening to make this happen, but, as usual, without really thinking it through.

The justification - of course - is the tired old one of terrorism (anybody notice how this has become a kind of continuous justification for everything these days? - You don't think people have been reading 1984 for ideas or anything?). The "argument" is that the new powers are needed to "force" those evil terrorists to hand over the keys so that PC Plod can read all that incriminating evidence, and they can do their well-deserved porridge.

So, let's consider the various possibilities.

Either these terrorists, who tend to show scant regard for human life, let alone human laws, are suddenly going to become law-abiding, and say: "it's a fair cop, but society is to blame. Here are my encryption keys," and get sent down for the 10, 20, or 30 years they would cop for conspiring to carry out acts of terrorism blah-blah-blah. Or might they possibly just say "I've lost the keys", and get sent down for a couple of years instead?

Which do you think they'll choose?

Now tell me again why we need this legislation, since the only people it can possibly affect are law-abiding citizens like you and me, not law-defying terrorists?

Update 1: Slightly off-topic, but quite.

Update 2: More stupid UK legislation that will weaken, not strengthen people's security.


Anonymous said...

Were I to make this post del.icio.us (and it's already pretty tasty), I would use tags such as:

Glyn Moody said...

That's a great comment, in that I don't actually know what you mean and whether it's a criticism or not: maybe I'm just getting too old for this blogging lark, and my brain is now officially pickled.