Dangerous And False Justifications For Invading Privacy

Posted on Jun 18, 2014 by Rick Falkvinge

There’s no shortage of justifications for new surveillance powers. One of the more disturbing ones is a trend toward outlawing the mere attempt of maintaining your own privacy against intrusion. When this happens in your country, speak up.

This cat-and-mouse game started with the analog lock. When doing investigations, the police were allowed to break into a physically locked container (chest, safe, room…) to examine its contents, if its holder was under individual suspicion of a serious enough crime.

This hasn’t translated very well to the digital environment.

True, the police still have the right to confiscate equipment and subject it to forensic analysis, which is the equivalent of looking at the container from all angles and trying to break into it, which was the analog-equivalent power of law enforcement.

But as people learned to encrypt their data, this became increasingly useless. Essentially, there was a lock in the digital that the police could not open. (Of course, there had been such locks in the analog world too – and just as with digital encryption locks, it’s just a matter of how much brute force (read money) you plow into breaking it.)

So in this cat-and-mouse game, law enforcement learned to decode most filesystems and to do forensic analysis on computers, disregarding the fact that they’re far more private than diaries and private letters (which sometimes enjoy special protection in law just because of their sensitivity).

Then, just because computers are so private, people started encrypting their data to protect it from all kinds of intruders, legal or not. First some pieces of data, then more things. Then entire computers.

In this transition to digital, various bureaucrats realized they could get away with far more than they had ever had in the analog world, mostly because leglislators don’t think in terms of analog-equivalent rights. So somewhere along the line, a police power to allow trying to break into people’s privacy became an imagined and desired power to always succeed into breaking people’s privacy. This is, of course, something entirely different.

This trend is visible worldwide. Using locally acceptable excuses from “terrorism” to “organized crime”, laws are now appearing that outlaw people from even trying to protect their secrets against intrusion.

In other words, bureaucrats and legislators are starting to confuse and conflate the previous violence against an object with new violence against a suspect (forcing cooperation at the threat of violence).

They will present this as nothing new, as just a way to make sure they “still have” the former right – the right to attempt breaking privacy. That is not a right to succeed in doing so. When this debate hits your own country, speak up.

Privacy remains your own responsibility.

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