Should Data Encryption Be Banned?

Should Data Encryption Be Banned

Data security is one of the biggest concerns in the tech world.  Encryption is crucial to maintaining one’s security and privacy, but there are suggestions stating that encryption needs to be banned so as to allow authorities to pin down and stop terrorism.  Andy Yen discusses the issue in an article on TED titled “Why We Should Care About Encryption. Really”.

Encryption, as defined by Webopedia, is “the translation of data into a secret code.  Encryption is the most effective way to achieve data security.  To read an encrypted file, you must have access to a secret key or password that enables you to decrypt it.  Unencrypted data is called plain text; encrypted data is referred to as cipher text.”

There are many ways that encryption is utilized, such as in online banking, shopping, and other crucial activities done over the Internet.  But perhaps, the most personal experience one has when it comes to encryption is through email.

Emails, according to Yen, paints a narrative of oneself.  True enough, email messages could contain one’s most intimate written conversations or most passionate views, and when other people or entities gain access to it, it could be detrimental.  This is, in a way, reminiscent of the hacking of Sony Pictures wherein emails between top executives were leaked to the public, which put them in really hot water.  But while those proved harmful to the persons and company involved, there are likely worse cases wherein political and/ or social views are concerned, or more powerful and dangerous people might be involved.

As such, Yen says that banning encryption is not the means to stop terrorist attacks nor will it be able to do so. On the contrary, it would be democratic movements that would be undermined.

Data Never Sleeps 2.0

Based on the above data, 204 million email messages are sent per minute

Yen provides three reasons for paying attention to encryption, namely:

  1. A privacy tool needs to be available to users without requiring them to understand the algorithms behind the technology.  He does say that encryption is now more accessible because of better technology.  While he acknowledges that email isn’t the only aspect that requires protection, he says that it’s “the first step toward encrypting all facets of our online lives.”
  2. Email transparency equates to transparency in other aspects, which means losing one’s privacy.  Governments, it seems, feel that their hands are tied because they can’t legally poke into private emails and data.  But as Yen puts it, everyone needs privacy, and he emphasizes that “encryption lies at the foundation of privacy.”
  3. Yen points out that “there are many examples of data snooping being used to crush dissent,” meaning government access to private data could later be used against citizens who disagree with its policies.  He notes that privacy and encryption protects the minority and allows them to discuss their views without interference from the government.

With the argument that those who have nothing to hide need not be afraid of back doors, Yen argues that “there is no such thing as a back door that only lets the good guys in.”  Thus, he states that “encryption is worth fighting for,” and closes his essay by saying, “Privacy is a fundamental right.  Let’s not squander it in the name of security.”

Primarily, Yen is airing out what many are concerned about, which is loss of privacy.  It’s a paradox of sorts, because as The Guardian puts it, “The same encryption that protects you and me protects companies, protects governments, and protects terrorists.”

What do you think?

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