Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Reddest of Herrings

Whenever there is a terrorist massacre, it galvanizes advocates on one side or the other to call for actions that are, at best, peripherally related to the attack and are sometimes overreactions. For example, the Paris attack brought out the immigration xenophobes who stonewall rescue of Syrian refugees trying to escape an untenable situation – lumping all of them with the terrorists. When a lone shoe bomber fails to bring down a jetliner, we are immediately placated by the TSA telling us to take off our shoes at airports.  When a gunman terrorizes a school, gun safety advocates use these tragedies (justifiably) to spur efforts to protect our children and teachers.

And when a 9/11 or Paris attack emerges from the shadows where these despicable organizations live, there are calls to weaken internet encryption approaches in the name of preventing future attacks.

Much of the traffic on the internet is encrypted using algorithms that government agencies can’t crack. We know this because those algorithms are in the public domain and if there were a backdoor hack available, it would probably be divulged by a whistleblower, an academic paper, or a high school teenager.

Internet encryption is important to protect banking and other personal information. Because of the very nature of the Internet, we have no control over where traffic is being relayed, and unencrypted traffic might as well be posted on a bulletin board in Times Square.

Now, government agencies and terrorism experts are calling for the security of the Internet to be drastically weakened. In the name of preventing terrorism, They want to impose regulations that would require encryption software to have a “back door” – a master key that the NSA and other agencies could use to decrypt any and all internet traffic. Their claim is that since terrorists use uncrackable encryption, it makes it harder for agencies to prevent attacks.  This is a red herring – it has nothing to do with terrorism or protection from attacks.

Because the uncrackable algorithms are already available, there’s nothing to stop terrorists from using them. Even if the U.S. bans these public-domain tools, our enemies can get them in other countries. By requiring a back door, government and their corporate sponsors will have unfettered access to the activities of ordinary Americans. Sure, there will be claims that safeguards will be put in place. But unscrupulous politicians, corporations, and criminals will eventually find these so-called protected entrances.

So if these suggestions that have been prompted by the fear of terrorism are implemented, ordinary Americans will suffer and the terrorists will continue to use already available tools. Some people might have a false sense of security, but the terrorists will have won yet another battle.