There has been much in the news today about British PM David Cameron’s statement that he wants to “ban” end-to-end encryption of communications on the Internet in the UK, although I’m sure he and the Americans would like to see that ban have a much wider field.
This comes in the wake of the events in Paris last week, where the terrorists may have used freely available “chat apps” to plot their evil deeds. People might remember a similar tale emerging during the London riots of 2011 where it was alleged that those involved in “organising” the trouble were using the BlackBerry Messenger Software (BBM) to communicate and that the Security Services couldn’t monitor them because the BBM system was encrypted.
It is worth noting that nearly all on-line financial transactions between you and banks, credit card companies and the thousands of retailers with a web presence also employ the same end-to-end encryption techniques – you know the ones; where a padlock or similar appears in your browser window to let you know that the data is moving over a secure route.
It is further worth noting that secure communications have existed for centuries – in Roman times messengers used to have their heads shaved, messages were written on them and then delivered when enough hair had grown back to conceal the content. Primitive, but it worked at the time. But this was in the days when “Urgent” had a timescale measured in months…
During WWII, “Personal Messages” were Broadcast by the BBC and included during general news bulletins. Whilst the content of these messages would sound innocuous to most, they often contained vital information to those that needed it. Hiding In Plain Sight worked very well for the corporation and the Allied forces.
If the plan to ban current encryption ever comes into place, will we see a resurgence of HIPS? With the amount of ways people can communicate now (“social” media, podcasts, web-casting and a host of others) with or without encryption, are the authorities letting themselves in for a drawn out, potentially deadly and extremely expensive game of “hunt the thimble” or perhaps “Whack-a-Mole”? Governments can’t monitor them all and as history shows; it only takes a bit of ingenuity to come up with some means of beating the system, if only for a time.
Or this all just another example of the Government using tragic events elsewhere to pursue its own agenda under the tired looking blanket of “Security”?
How much is a stamp these days…?