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Snowden Warns of Dystopian Future Without Encryption. Happy Halloween. [Encryption Digest 16]

Snowden Warns of Dystopian Future Without Encryption. Happy Halloween. [Encryption Digest 16]

Snowden and future encryption
October 24, 2019 | Katrina Dobieski

Same fight. Fresh fighter. Or perhaps the original. It’s like the 2018 reprisal of Rocky with (an obvious) Sylvester Stallone still in the ring. As the cyber community tunes its ear to the familiar sound of whistles blowing, Edward Snowden’s call to arms is clarion clear: “This is our new battleground.” In an op-ed published by The Guardian, former CIA officer Edward Snowden gave anti-E2EE arguments a thorough dressing-down as he lambasted the motives, practice and protocol of those he said would leave users “vulnerable by design.”

As world leaders and fence-sitters are shown the business end of Snowden’s resolve, the end-to-end encryption outcome still hangs precariously where we left it. Some news from the front, below.

All quotes, unless otherwise marked, are from Snowden’s published article.


Catch Me Up, Again?

Where we stand on the fight for encryption. Not much has changed, but if you need the score—sometimes it takes a genius to explain things simply.

“Earlier this month the US, alongside the UK and Australia, called on Facebook to create a ‘backdoor’, or fatal flaw, into its encrypted messaging apps, which would allow anyone with the key to that backdoor unlimited access to private communications. So far, Facebook has resisted this.” 

“For more than half a decade, the vulnerability of our computers and computer networks has been ranked the number one risk in the US Intelligence Community’s Worldwide Threat Assessment—that’s higher than terrorism, higher than war.”

“If internet traffic is unencrypted, any government, company, or criminal that happens to notice it can – and, in fact, does—steal a copy of it, secretly recording your information forever.”

“When I came forward in 2013, the US government wasn’t just passively surveilling internet traffic as it crossed the network, but had also found ways to co-opt and, at times, infiltrate the internal networks of major American tech companies.”

"The internet is more secure as a result [of advancing the commercial adoption of encryption]. Too secure, in the opinion of some governments.”


Tell Us How You Really Feel

In a word? No.

No, Edward Snowden does not approve of Facebook possibly conceding to the US, UK and Australia’s demands for backdoor access. No, he does not think the benefits are worth the risk.

And here’s why.

“[T]he US government, along with the governments of the UK and Australia, is attempting to undermine the only method that currently exists for reliably protecting the world’s information: encryption.”

“Without encryption, we will lose all privacy.”

Without total access to the complete history of every person’s activity on Facebook, the government claims it would be unable to investigate terrorists...”

“The true explanation for why the US, UK and Australian governments want to do away with end-to-end encryption is less about public safety than it is about power.”

“[T]he government would suddenly become less able to treat Facebook as a convenient trove of private lives.”

“This is our new battleground.”

“It is striking that when a company as potentially dangerous as Facebook appears to be [willing to] limiting its own power, it is the US government that cries foul.”


What’s the Risk?

“If Barr’s campaign is successful, the communications of billions will remain frozen in a state of permanent insecurity”

“What this shift jeopardises is strictly nations’ ability to spy on populations at mass scale”

[C]ommunications will be vulnerable not only to investigators in the U.S., U.K., and Australia, but also to the intelligence agencies of China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia—not to mention hackers around the world.”


What Others Are Saying

“Encryption is a human right in the digital society. Full stop. We should have it by design and default in the technology we use. I agree with @Snowden..." - Francesca Bria, Italian Information Technologist

“We believe people have the right to have a private conversation online, wherever they are in the world.” - Facebook

“[P]roposals to ban crypto are alive and well: they're already law in Australia, edging into UK law, and under consideration in Germany and the USA" - Cory Doctorow,

“End-to-end encryption already protects the messages of over a billion people every day… We strongly oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere.” - Facebook


His Utopia

“By limiting the amount of personal records and intensely private communications held by companies, governments are returning to classic methods of investigation that are both effective and rights—respecting, in lieu of total surveillance. In this outcome we remain not only safe, but free.”


Truly, Madly, Deeply

If we stand on this issue, we stand united, divided and undecided. Every major world power, political leaning, major corporation, minor corporation, writer, activist and pre-teen has skin in the game. No one wants their messages read. Not the for-profit enterprises sending trade secrets to overseas trade partners. Not Blizzard and their hosts of Guild gamers. Not Sinaloan cartel members. Not the US government. And amid calls of world leaders to the contrary, it is interesting to note that those most familiar with the technology find reason to object.

Emerging from his Russian safe-zone to anchor his team in a devolving game of tug-of-war, this former CIA employee stands to defend what he bet his career on before—the right of individuals to know, and control, what’s going on with their information.

What we do with that bet, is up to us.




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About the author

Katrina Dobieski
Katrina Dobieski

Katrina writes for Venafi's blog and helps optimize Venafi's online presence to advance awareness of Machine Identity Protection.

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