Who comes first in the question of data security? Those who need it or those who would exploit it?
After the recent terrorist attack in London, encryption is once again at the center of the debate raging around government access to sensitive and private information. And, with every passing day, the conflicting standpoints show every sign of become less clear.
This is nothing new, of course, as little over a year ago Apple locked horns with the US Justice Department over the right to access private data, causing the industry as a whole to weigh up the pros and cons. This complex matter concerns absolutely everyone from government agencies and big businesses, all the way down to us humble users who are just looking for answers to some pretty crucial questions.
Could private information one day become readily available for any and all interested parties? How far is too far in the pursuit of 'forced cooperation'? And what options are out there for those concerned about their privacy?
No safe place to hide - for anybody
Remember that scene in Christopher Nolan's 2008 movie The Dark Knight where Bruce Wayne turns every cell phone in Gotham into a surveillance device? His justification for doing so was that he could quickly prevent the Joker from doing any more harm, but the movie questioned the ethics of such measures at the expense of everybody's privacy.
Back in the real world, however, those same questions have unfortunately been brought to light amidst the chaos of a deplorable act of violence.
After the dust had settled on the tragic events that happened in Westminster, London, it emerged that the attacker, Khalid Masood, sent a WhatsApp message moments before the attack, drawing criticism from certain politicians who are now demanding less restriction for their investigations, and essentially, the end of end-to-end encryption.
In particular, the UK's Home Secretary (Interior Minister), Amber Rudd MP, was recently interviewed on the matter where she made her views absolutely clear.
Ms Rudd stated that encryption, the security technique designed to keep users' data private, as being nothing more than a hindrance to national security, calling it "completely unacceptable" that services such as WhatsApp could provide "a place for terrorists to hide".
This is of course at odds with WhatsApp's own policy as the company added end-to-end encryption to all of its messages last year, stating at the time of the announcement:
"From now on when you and your contacts use the latest version of the app, every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file, and voice message you send, is end-to-end encrypted by default, including group chats…The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to. No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us. "
Encryption works by mashing up the data so heavily that it becomes impossible to decipher to anyone other than the sender and the recipient, and this is making governments nervous, it seems. The age-old argument often used in defending a lack of encryption is that "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about", but most would argue that idea cannot (and should not) be taken lightly.
The political class does seem somewhat confused. Granted, cyber-security is a complex matter (Ms Rudd perhaps unwittingly proved that), but the whole concept of back-doors and snoopability has been conveniently summed up by Apple CEO, Tim Cook:
"Some in Washington are hoping to undermine the ability of ordinary citizens to encrypt their data. We think this is incredibly dangerous. If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too."
Why encryption matters
Encryption is vital. It protects us and is what allows us to conduct business and banking safely, and it keeps our interests and habits private. In no way should national and global security against extremism be undermined, but in dismantling one part of the system, it weakens it as a whole.
In allowing governing bodies to access data such as that found in messaging services like WhatsApp, it could be argued that it impairs safeguards against hackers and those looking to exploit the loopholes.
As Tim Cook didn't say:
Maybe the next time someone dredges up the old "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear", ask them if that includes their credit card details.
Your data, your right to privacy
VoiceAPIs, such as those provided by Clique, offer full end-to-end encryption on voice communications across multiple parties and locations providing assurances that, when it comes to data, it's not for anyone but the user and their contacts.
If you are concerned about your own security, you can also opt for using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). These provide extra peace of mind for those looking for added protection against any and all cyber criminals, as they not only protect your data but can also prevent third parties from selling your information.
And who could exploit your information for their own end, nefarious or commercial? Well, just about anyone these days, it seems.