Recently, French law enforcement suggested that Tor and free public Wi-Fi should be banned to help it fight terrorism more easily. The country’s Prime Minister, Manual Valls, has now stated that "a ban on Wi-Fi is not a course of action envisaged," and he’s not in favor of banning Tor, either.
The Prime Minister added that "Internet is a freedom, is an extraordinary means of communication between people, it is a benefit to the economy." He also noted that whatever measures are taken to fight terrorism have to be "effective."
Many politicians, when asking for a ban or weakening of encrypted communications, often don’t realize that these measures can have negative impact on the economy. Encrypted communications is what made e-commerce real in the first place. Without it, few people would trust sending their credit card information over the Internet, and stored credit card data would be even more exposed than it already is today, because too few companies take digital security seriously enough.
A “compromise” on encryption, as several Western governments (including the U.S.) have been asking for recently, would not just be a compromise on user privacy, but also on security itself.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is a member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, recently made it sound as if encrypted communications are harming children because predators could be talking to them over communications channels that can’t be accessed by law enforcement (thereby also implying that law enforcement should always monitor everyone’s communications on the oft chance that a predator might talk to a child).
In fact, the opposite could be true. Weak security in parental control tools or in “smart” toys are much more likely to put children in danger than having access to strong encryption ever will, because if they're hacked, they can expose everything from chats to images to sound recordings, and even the real-time location or location history of millions of children. That’s data the children themselves would perhaps never give willingly if they were to simply “talk” to predators.
These sorts of arguments keep getting repeated by some politicians, even after it has been proven that the Paris attackers didn't use encrypted communications to make their plans.
However, it’s good to see that even after the recent attacks in Paris, and despite the fact that France already passed a surveillance law earlier this year and may further extend the emergency powers soon, there are some limits to how many rights it’s willing to take from its citizens for national security reasons.
Lucian Armasu joined Tom’s Hardware in early 2014. He writes news stories on mobile, chipsets, security, privacy, and anything else that might be of interest to him from the technology world. Outside of Tom’s Hardware, he dreams of becoming an entrepreneur.