Laws on encryption must not pose an unwarranted danger to the freedom and privacy of citizens
The Australian government has just hustled into law a wide-ranging bill which attempts to give its intelligence services powers against encrypted communications. Whatever the government may wish, there are of course limits set to these powers by the mathematics that underpin strong encryption. If it is properly implemented, strong encryption is quite literally unbreakable for the foreseeable future. That is why it has become an essential part of the modern world, sustaining, among other things, the whole of our banking system. No government could really wish it to be weakened, because that would unleash international anarchy. But no government can be entirely happy with it either, for it does make safer a great deal of criminal and terrorist activity. Last week’s law is the latest in a series of more or less unhappy compromises between the demands of security, privacy and human rights.
At one extreme there is the Chinese policy, which abolishes privacy and human rights entirely in the interests of state power. A mesh of digital surveillance holds every citizen a virtual prisoner and strips them of privacy. This is most highly developed in the repression that has clamped down on the western province of Xinjiang, but ultimately it is clear that everyone in China will be judged by their “social credit” score, derived from all of their actions, online and off, which have ever been digitised. Any company that does business in China, as Apple does, Google plans to do, and Facebook yearns to, will find that it cooperates with the state.