For the average consumer the debate we’re witnessing from our politicians about encryption seems like a valid conversation and a fair and balanced response to the threat of terrorism.
Problem is, they’ve got no idea – and it’s making them look a bit ridiculous.
There are several levels at which this encryption debate are being positioned.
One is that governments should have a “back door” access to the devices we’re using to ensure their investigations are never hindered by encrypted data.
The second is that governments should have some access to decryption tools to ensure any social media and messaging apps are not becoming harbours for terrorists.
Neither would work.
Firstly, if governments in some way demand access to devices via a secret back door – the privacy of all our data is compromised in an instant.
Yes, the argument that weighing up our own privacy against the security of our nation is a strong one, but are you really ok with your phone, and everything in it, being able to be read by someone with the key? What if that back door key gets into the wrong hands, will someone see that photo of your passport or drivers licence? Will someone see that note entry with your passwords?
What if they open a web browser on your phone and have access to all your regular sites because those passwords are stored in the browser?
Ok, so the good thing is, the idea of a government back door into Android or Apple phones is off the table right now. Not since the San Bernardino terrorist investigation has there been those calls for Apple to open access to their phones.
What Apple and others do on a regular basis is work with law enforcement organisations to provide whatever they can – and there are many many examples of Apple’s information helping track down anything from a lost phone to a missing person.
The fact is, in the case of San Bernardino – the iPhone the government wanted “hacked” was a missed opportunity by police. Once that phone was obtained, it should have been plugged into charge at the home location – possibly initiating an internet iCloud backup – which would have been information Apple could have helped the government with.
Police need to work closely with Tech companies, governments don’t need to stand over them.
When it comes to encrypted apps, the very idea of encryption is undermined by a “back door”.
Our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull knows this too well. He was (and likely still is) using device to device messaging app Wickr – itself an encrypted messaging service. Why use Wickr? So no one else can read your messages. There is no other reason.
So to suggest that time will be spent debating government forced access to apps like What’s App or Facebook Messenger is quite simply ridiculous.
Not because it can’t be done, but because it would result in a net result of nothing. Why? A new app will be built, one that just the terrorists will use. When that gets shut down, another will open.
It’s not rocket science, it’s chasing your tail.
Over the days and weeks ahead remember this: time spent by the Australian Government discussing encryption and getting around it as a counter terrorism tool, and any time spent at overseas conferences with other governments – is a complete and utter waste.
I’m actually in favour of the internet being regulated in the same way the “offline world” – what we should perhaps refer to as the “Real World” – but there are always going to be limitations.