Encryption Backdoors

Encryption is a valuable means for keeping information relatively secure. The question remains is there a valid case to design encryption so that there is another way to undo it besides the normal way? Ars Technica has presented an article that describes support for the ability to undo encryption in the case of malicious parties. The position of the technology community is that encryption is a neutral technology and it is neither negative or positive. The technology community in general seems to express a view that encryption is technology and if you make it possible to undo it outside the normal mechanisms, you make encryption useless. It would be the same as not having encryption at all. Others advocate for the ability to undo encryption as that can help in certain circumstances. What is the right way to go? Let’s explore this for a moment.

Consider for a moment a malicious party. The process that society has established for the longest time deals primarily with action rather than intent. Intent of a malicious nature is not harmful unless express in action. It would seem then that whatever is hidden in data does not have the same impact as the decision a malicious actor makes to act and then executes.

The value of data in that scenario is to prepare for the likelihood of some party acting in a way detrimental to persons and society. Data harvesting however is proven to be time intensive and ineffective. An analogy that illustrates the difficulty in using data to preempt negative behavior across society is the phrase, “looking for a needle in a haystack“. What that refers to is the immense improbability that even if all data across all computers is open and transparent, that you could not stop all malicious activity because the amount of data would overload the capacity of machines and people who interpret that data to use properly. Mathematical code and statistics still cannot match the unpredictability of people and their biological patterns in a vast sea of possibilities.

Another scenario is presented by advocates of extra-special ways to undo encryption is that it helps with those who access and use harmful materials. Some of this material may be judged improper by society and that no person should access it. Another way to understand the role of encryption here is that it is not the technology that is at issue but perhaps the governing principle regarding the content. If certain content of a morally questionable nature is not allowed to be held, then perhaps the response is consider that this content has to originate from somewhere. The focus then would be the active removal of those origination sources to the extent they are publicly accessible.

As a society, it is best to remember that the rules and beliefs we live by, passed down generation to generation are not guaranteed to stay written. The written rules of governance can change and those rules have consequences. Generations before us had certain comfort with the concept of absolute privacy unless another person privy to questionable behavior disclosed to the community that one of their member required review. Those rules and related points of view are not guaranteed to remain and the question now is does encryption and whatever comes after powerful enough to determine how we accept privacy or is the concept of privacy to remain the natural concept that earlier generations experienced?

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