No Place to Hide

30th January 2022


The UK Home Office is running a campaign named “No Place to Hide”. Once more Priti Patel’s department is trying to undermine public support for end-to-end encryption.

The goal of reducing online child abuse is most noble, but it cannot be achieved by breaking encryption. It cannot be achieved at the cost of the privacy of all.

End-to-end encryption means that texting or calling your friend can be as private as whispering in their ears. It means you don’t have to entrust corporations with your secrets, nor their disgruntled employees. It means that in a day and age when large scale data breaches are scarily commonplace, you can sleep well, knowing that your most private conversations won’t fall in the hands of hackers so easily. It allows journalists to report safely on injustices and advance democracy. It means that billions of people who live under questionably democratic governments can express their opinions freely. Even for those who currently live under a government they trust, encryption means they can speak their mind without fear of repercussions, worrying about a repressive leader being elected 20 years from now.

The primary argument of the government is unchanged: if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. As Edward Snowden said, “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.

What’s new about this campaign is that it states the government is “not opposed to end-to-encryption in principle”, as long as it’s implemented in a way that allows access to your data when required. I expect this is because they don’t want to be seen to oppose end-to-end encryption, which has gained wider public support in recent years.

However, this new argument is fundamentally flawed. It’s just not how end-to-end encryption works. There is no way to place a backdoor to user’s texts and guarantee it is not abused. Backdoors are not wiretaps - targeted intelligence devices requiring pre-approval - they’re mass surveillance devices. They’re master keys that can end up in the wrong hands. They’re a gift to undemocratic governments, hackers, and those disgruntled employees.

We must find other ways to combat crime. The UK must lead the way, recognising that digital privacy is a fundamental human right. It is a link in the chain of civil liberties that define democracy.

Originally posted on Facebook, on 2021-01-19.