Potent essay in favor of strong encryption even though the US intelligence apparatus would like Americans to believe terrorists use it to hide their communications from law enforcement (demonstrably false in certain circumstances, such as Paris):
People who protect liberty have to take care not to imply, much less acknowledge, that the draconian anti-liberty measures advocated by the surveillance state crowd are justified, tactically or morally, no matter what the circumstances. Someday a terrorist will be known to have used strong encryption, and the right response will be: “Yes, they did, and we still have to protect strong encryption, because weakening it will make things worse.”
Why? Because encryption is actually a straightforward matter, no matter how much fear-mongering law enforcement officials and craven, willfully ignorant politicians spout about the need for a backdoor into protected communications. The choice is genuinely binary, according to an assortment of experts in the field. You can’t tamper this way with strong encryption without making us all less secure, because the bad guys will exploit the vulnerabilities you introduce in the process. This isn’t about security versus privacy; as experts have explained again and again, it’s about security versus security.
Moreover, as current and former law enforcement officials lead a PR parade for the surveillance-industrial complex, pushing again for pervasive surveillance, they ignore not just the practical problems with a “collect it all” regime — it drowns the spies in too much information to vet properly — but also the fundamental violation of liberty that it represents. These powers are always abused, and a society under surveillance all the time is a deadened one, as history amply shows.
Of course we need some surveillance, but in targeted ways. We want government to spy on enemies and criminal suspects, but with the checks and balances of specific judicial approval, not rubber stamps for collect-it-all by courts and Congress. The government already has lots of intrusive tools at its disposal when it wants to know what specific people are doing. But our Constitution has never given the government carte blanche to know everything or force people to testify against themselves, among other limits it establishes on power.