Following the London attacks, Theresa May boldly suggested that the issue was the Internet. What she was more likely referring to was encryption. Terrorists using encrypted communication methods to plan attacks.
Apps like WhatsApp transmit messages in an encrypted fashion. For the layperson, this means that while the message is “in the pipes” between your phone and the intended recipients phone, no one can read that message. Even if a would-be hacker managed to get the message, it would be be a garbled mess. This is because the only device that could decrypt that message would be your intended recipient.
In the modern world where people are more security-conscious (as they should be) apps like Signal are becoming more popular. But also more important. Civil liberties that protect communications between citizens are vital. Yes, someone may use these methods of communications for malicious purposes, but the foils of the few should not leave the many bereft. Increasingly, though, citizens are less likely to trust the arms of government to use an open & connected stream of data from citizens in a responsible manner. To demonstrate this (somewhat), the graph below demonstrates the trust Americans have in their politicians’ intellect:
May’s suggestion that encryption methods for messages are what’s causing terrorism is her attempt at starting a theological debate about the importance of encryption. In her mind, the idea that we have encrypted messaging systems prohibits the authorities from taking precautions against wouldbe terrorists. She would like to open up messaging to the authorities to aide anti-terror campaigns.
However, if terrorists were using standard postal services, her suggestion is akin to burning woodland areas to stop terrorists from having access to paper or to have everyone remove their front doors to stop lock pickers.
No doubt, this government in the UK will lean into 1984 style tactics using fear as a catalyst to remove the ability for decent denizens of the realm to have digital privacy. But this is important. People don’t really understand this stuff, but it should be one of the defining political movements of the 21st century; the right to remain anonymous or to have data held privately, and only privately. Going deeper, people like me will continue to bang this drum harder. And even more, I’m a huge advocate for the future of a distributed network as the backbone of our digital future. Long live blockchain, encryption and a private future!