Who's Watching the Watchers? Reason Is, That's Who

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We have an incoming administration under President-Elect Donald Trump that's more likely to see surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden as a traitor than a protector of Americans' right to privacy and government transparency.


During the lengthy presidential election race, you would have been hard-pressed to find very much discussion or debate on surveillance issues at all, even as the United States (and other countries) hammer out rules directly affecting the strength of citizens' rights to protect private data and communications from unwarranted and secretive snooping.

But Reason has not backed off keeping readers up-to-date in government snooping issues. Trump (along with the likes of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr) may not have understood why Apple refused to simply help the FBI unlock an iPhone that was in the possession of one of the terrorists responsible for the deadly attacks in San Bernardino, California, but Reason was there to help explain.

Not only is it abhorrent for the government to use the courts to draft a company and force it to assist in its investigations via court order; Apple deliberately cracking its own encryption for the benefit of government officials created a huge vulnerability for every user of its products, not just a dead terrorist. As pretty much every tech company under the sun attempted to get the government to understand, once the security or encryption of a phone, or an app, or an operating system has a "back door" that would allow the FBI or other law enforcement officials in, that manner of getting access to data was doomed to spread. Politicians seem to think it's possible for companies to create "golden keys" to allow just the "right people" to break encryptions. Even if we were to accept the FBI and prosecuting attorneys around the country as the "right people" (and you really shouldn't), if there's a vulnerability in a system's security, the "wrong people" will eventually find it.

That's why Reason made it very clear during the midst of this fight why people who are not terrorists or criminals still need to be very concerned if our data and communications security gets deliberately weakened for the sole purpose of helping government investigations.

While America has avoided bad legislation on encryption so far, the United Kingdom has jumped full-force into citizen surveillance, thanks to new Prime Minister Theresa May, a huge fan of snooping on her own citizens. Not only does the newly passed Investigatory Powers Bill give dozens of British agencies the authority to access citizens' private browsing history, it gives the government permission to demand that tech companies remove or bypass their own encryption on demand. Reason has been tracking the journey of this legislation and its potential consequences not just on British citizens, but for anybody who uses a smart phone, tablet, or computer (in other words, just about everybody).

During the presidential race, neither Trump nor Clinton showed much capacity for even talking about cybersecurity or encryption coherently (as if the role of hackers in completely embarrassing the Democratic establishment with email leaks didn't make that clear), leaving Americans to wonder who will be developing policy under the incoming administration.

Reason will be staying on top of exactly what Trump's administration might do (will we follow in the United Kingdom's footsteps?) and what might be done to protect your basic right to privacy from unwarranted government snooping in an era where everything about our personal lives has become digitized.

Your donations help Reason keep sounding the alarm on these high-tech government-led privacy intrusions and also helps us discuss and debate policy-based solutions. For example, Reason's Scott Shackford will be leading a panel discussion at the popular South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, in March. The panel, titled "Get a Warrant: The Fourth Amendment and Digital Data," brings together a pack of tech and privacy experts to discuss what sort of legislative solutions Congress might pursue that could potentially keep America off the path selected by the U.K. Your donations help make outreach into venues like this possible.

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