gov surveillanceGovernments around the world have been reacting to recurring terrorist attacks with a push to up the ante on government surveillance; chiefly, they want tech companies to be forced to create a backdoor with their encryption services that allows for government security agencies to monitor messages of potential terrorists. The push to do this has been particularly centered the United States and the United Kingdom, where government officials and tech higher-ups have had the most notable clashes.

As another episode to this long-standing debate, campaigners from over 40 countries have joined forces to defend encryption by releasing an open letter signed by 195 experts.

“Users should have the option to use- and companies the option to provide- the strongest encryption available, including end-to-end encryption, without fear that governments will compel access to the content, metadata, or encryption keys without due process and respect for human rights,” the letter states.

The letter was part of an initiative made by the digital-rights group Access Now and posted to SecureTheInternet.org. It strongly denounces any government attempts to “ban or otherwise limit user access to encryption in any form or otherwise prohibit the implementation or use of encryption by grade or type.”

It further decries many government’s attempts to “mandate insecure encryption algorithms, standards, tools or technologies.”

Among the signories are the secure-messaging company Silent Circle, Human Rights Watch, former CIA official John Kiriakou, United Nations special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye, and Guardian US columnist Trevor Timm.

Technology experts have pointed out that any security flaw built into their devices could be manipulated by hackers just as easily as the government. In fact, the weakening of consumer-available encryption will increase the already mounting risk of cybercrime and identity theft.

tim cook2“A backdoor is a backdoor for everyone,” argued Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The letter was released in a dozen countries where digital surveillance has hit an all-time high. The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passed through US Congress just last month after it was sandwiched into a must-pass spending bill. The manipulation of the bill’s passage and its general lack of press do not bode well for privacy rights for US citizens.

“Encryption and anonymity, and the security concepts behind them, provide the privacy and security necessary for the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age,” claimed David Kaye in a statement accompanying the letter’s release.

Amie Stepanovich is Access Now’s policy manager. According to her, Chine and the United Kingdom have been united in threatening encryption, warranting a more global response.

“Conversations about security and surveillance have taken place in the shadows for too long,” Stepanovich asserted. “From the secret negotiations of the so-called cybersecurity bill in order to push it through last December, to meetings just last week between top officials in government and the private sector- we need to start singing light not he ways our human rights are being threatened. SecureTheInternet.org draws clear lines in the sane- we won’t stand for laws of policies that threaten our security.”

Hopefully there will be more public displays of anti-surveillance techniques of this nature; unfortunately, cybersecurity has the strange ability to stay out of the news, and certainly out of the US primary debates.

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