Monday, March 27, 2017

To arms! To arms! The British are coming!

The British are coming! The British are coming! To arms! To arms!

No, this is not a reenactment of the war of American independence. But, it is a call to action to go to war to protect liberty! And have no doubt, it is a war. The thing with wars are there are winners and there are losers. History is written by the winners. In today's war on liberty there are no winners and everyone loses. Worse yet, other wars (perhaps, also unwinnable) are some of the battle fields upon which the war on liberty is fought. The "war on terrorism" is a good example of such a battle field. "Terrorism" is such a convenient term to use after all. It evokes very strong emotions. It is a strong word, and one, which, I believe, is highly over used. However, politicians and others with an agenda will use such strong words to evoke emotions and sway people to action. In today's world, we don't have a word or phrase for "somebody is doing stupid stuff like destroying property or killing people" that evokes the proper horror or malcontent as it should. So, the governments have politicized and armed "terror" and "terrorism" to be blanket terms for all sorts of deplorable actions. They are then using these "terrors" to remove the civil liberties of those being terrorized - that's right, the victims.

Today's New York Times (03/27/2017) has an article where "Amber Rudd, Britain’s home secretary, said that the country’s intelligence agencies should have access to encrypted messages sent through WhatsApp, an instant-messaging service owned by Facebook. Her remarks were part of the British response to the fatal terrorist attack last week in London" (c.f. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/27/technology/whatsapp-rudd-terrorists-uk-attack.html). Here we see where "Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old Briton, drove a car into pedestrians before attacking a police officer." Is that terrorism, of course not. Is it deplorable, yes it is. But, they are calling it terrorism so that they can justify crossing civil liberties. They want to require that technology allow back doors into software so that they can see what data is being transferred.

If they do get access to the encrypted data, what they would see is garbage. That's the idea behind encryption. Cryptography, the use of codes and ciphers to protect secrets, began thousands of years ago. The basics of it are there is a secret part and there is a public part. The public part is available for viewing/hearing. The private part is what turns the public part into something useful for the receiver. Since the 1970's, the public has had access to the ability to encrypt data at a level that the governments have historically had. And governments, as Ms. Rudd points out, do not like it. In fact, the despise it. So much so that they want to entice persons (and companies) to be refrained from having and using encryption that the governments can't unencrypt. How might they entice such actions?

In the same New York times article it said, "The move by British lawmakers is the latest effort in Europe to police how internet giants operate online. This month, a German government minister, Heiko Maas, said that he would propose new legislation that could fine tech companies around $50 million if they failed to stop hate speech being spread on digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube."... "Officials in Britain, however, are going a step further. And by demanding that intelligence agencies be allowed to read encrypted messages, Ms. Rudd is reiterating long-held plans to gain more control over digital services."

Again, what is at stake here is individual liberty. A person is permitted to do all and only the things he is not obliged to refrain from, and obliged to do all and only the things he is not permitted to refrain from. In other words, they have liberties and rights. Rights can be taken away, but not liberties. Liberties are those which you can do just because God gave us life. (I realize this isn't quite legal definitions - as those would refer to Liberty Rights and Claim Rights. I'm just simplifying.)

While I understand the frustration the British government and all governments are facing, such actions cannot be condoned. This is not about terrorism. This is about basic civil liberties. I completely understand that when people are at liberty to do something, then there is risk. They might get out of control. They might use this liberty to harm others. As in London, people have the ability to run over people with a car. However, to use this as an excuse to curtail liberty is more than an injustice. It is a duty of every human to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." In today's world, that security includes confidence in secure communications.

Amendment IV of the Bill of Rights states that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." The American Bill of Rights gives a way for the US government to inspect a person's home, papers, or effects. It is done at the "person" level. Corporations do not have the right to infringe upon the individual and disclose private data transferred. If the government has probable cause, they can get a warrant to the individual.

However, if a position were adopted that sought to curb these liberties, then people would be controlled. This would certainly make the job of the British government, FBI or local police force easier. However, in elevating "safety" to the place of primary value, then we lose that which we value even more - liberty. In opting for security, we are opting to give up freedom of movement, freedom of choice, freedom of speech, freedom of action. We have already given up too much of this due to terrorists and terrorism. Giving up liberty to gain safety means we gain nothing and lose a lot. We have already lost too much. It is the duty of technology companies to society to not comply with these demands.

Have no doubt the war is not coming, it is here, and our liberties are at stake. The Google's, Facebook's, Apple's, etc. are on the front lines. They must fight and we must support them in this fight.

Originally published on www.dpitts.com on 3/27/2017. This article is not meant to be legal advice. The author is not a lawyer. Reprint and publication requests can be sent to publications@dpitts.com

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