Cryptographic liberties

Why cryptography is necessary for personal liberty under surveillance capitalism

Published 2019-09-28 by Olivia Mackintosh
Updated 2022-07-31

The access and use of strong end-to-end cryptography and secure communication tools are liberties worth upholding for the masses. WhatsApp in particular has been fundamental in the success of many mass social and protest movements and is increasingly being used in political organisation in countries like India and even in the UK, by the political opposition. When organising against an entity as powerful as the state, a sense of control over what you share with your adversary is paramount. Without this, you are doomed to failure from the start. If you’re doomed to failure from the start, how is this true freedom to associate and communicate even in the most peaceful manner?

Justification for intrusive surveillance measures has increasingly become harder to find. The application of the label ‘terrorist’ to groups such as Antifa, the animal rights and anti-nuclear movements has been one of the core pillars deployed by the state. The word ‘terrorist’ is incredibly loaded in a post 9/11, post 7/7 world and applying it to any incidence of civil disobedience or direct action, even non-violent distorts reality and acts as nothing more than propeganda, designed to strike a fear based chord with the public.

It has recently been announced that the US and UK governments are set to sign a treaty mandating “backdoor access” to currently end-to-end encrypted messages sent between users. In order to facillitate such “backdoor access”, the service providers and/or government must have selective access over who they target. Proposals for a kind of “lite-crypto” or selective access in the past have long been critisized by security experts and privacy campaign groups. If a company holds a “‘magic-key’ to access the backdoor”, will other countries also want their own “magic-key”? Will the company decide that it’s more profitable for them to change their privacy policy and start harvesting the contents of messages for advertising purporses? I don’t believe this to be that improbable.

It is up to individuals in-the-know to take action and advocate for open technology that is as free as we can get from external control. The power entrusted to organisations in exchange for tools that once empowered us, will inevitably be abused. This will result in the net downgrade of free society. The cryptowars have been going on for a long time, it is nothing new, but; as new generations are handed the technological-baton, will the same principles be realized? Or, will fear and propeganda take over? I hope not. Let’s not let that happen.