Encryption

Top U.K. Official: Give Up Your Tech Freedoms or the Terrorists Will Win

What happens when you think privacy and speech are just tools of the enemy

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Amber Rudd
Andrew Milligan/ZUMA Press/Newscom

The way the United Kingdom's Home Secretary describes the internet and online communications, you'd think privacy and free speech actually cause terrorism.

Amber Rudd, like many of her deliberately dense political peers, is making the media rounds calling for weakening encryption and strengthening online censorship, all in the name of preventing future terror attacks. As the U.K.'s home secretary, Rudd oversees the security apparatus in her homeland. Prime Minister Theresa May served in the same role until a change in government brought her to power.

Rudd and May appear to be birds of a feather in believing that data privacy and online communications are tools of crime and terror, and that tech companies should follow government orders. That means censoring people when officials tell them to, and that means giving the government private data when officials tell them to, even if they have to compromise data security to do so.

This week Rudd took the argument one step further: She doesn't think the average person wants or cares all that much about encryption or data privacy—they just want convenience in communications. Therefore, she argues, there's no reason for companies to focus so much on end-to-end encryption (via Yahoo News, covering Rudd's paywalled commentary):

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Rudd said: "Who uses WhatsApp because it is end-to-end encrypted, rather than because it is an incredibly user-friendly and cheap way of staying in touch with friends and family?

"So this is not about asking the companies to break encryption or create so called 'back doors'.

"Companies are constantly making trade-offs between security and 'usability', and it is here where our experts believe opportunities may lie.

"Real people often prefer ease of use and a multitude of features to perfect, unbreakable security."

Er, so she is calling for encryption back doors, right? She is insisting that the U.K. government doesn't want to ban encryption. But she wants government access to private data on demand, which will require companies to compromise their data security and weaken encryption. And her justification for doing so is to point out the average user doesn't care.

Besides highlighting her own ignorance about the importance of encryption in general (perhaps she should ask a banker), she stumbles head first into her own counterargument: People who are really determined to do bad things and not be found out by government obviously do care about encryption. So while the government obsesses with making the most popular communication tools compliant to their demands, actual bad guys will turn to other tools instead, tools the government might not even know about.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, points out that these major communications services are willing to provide metadata to law enforcement even if they cannot provide the actual content. Rudd's insistence on access is essentially going to create an encryption black market:

Sandberg warned that if encryption was stripped away, users might flee the service, leaving law enforcement officials with even fewer leads. "If people move off those encrypted services to go to encrypted services in countries that won't share the metadata, the government actually has less information, not more," she said.

That's not the only awful component on Rudd's agenda. She—like other politicians, not just in the United Kingdom but in Germany and the European Union—want to force social media companies to play a bigger role in censoring content by terrorists or "extremists," and she wants to hammer through legislation to make it happen.

These tactics confuse symptoms of radicalization with the causes, treating online terrorist recruiting drives as though the words and images have magic powers that trigger extreme behavior in people who would otherwise be just fine.

There are, of course, unintended consequences of trying to force social media companies to censor content on the basis of declaring it radical or dangerous. An example may have popped up just yesterday, as a matter of fact.

Yesterday, YouTube announced new efforts to combat and take down extremist content online—and also, incidentally, to combat "hate speech" in its postings. YouTube is certainly free, as a private platform, to try to forbid hate speech on its site. It's not like it's sending police to raid people's homes. (That's what the German government does.)

But on the same day the site announced these new takedown efforts to make removal of radical content happen more quickly, a Canadian professor who made waves for saying that he refused to use newly created gender-neutral pronouns found his YouTube account suddenly locked. Jordan Peterson certainly drew criticism for his position, but it was political speech discussing a bill in the Canadian legislature. He tweeted out yesterday that this account had been shut down for violating YouTube's terms of service, with no explanation. Later in the day it was restored, again without explanation.

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  1. You first.

  2. This is why net neutrality sucks.

    Sticking it to Comcast sounds fun, right up until the government insists on decrypting everything you do… for the children.

    1. Sticking It To Comcast is $park?’s favorite porno.

      1. Sticking it in Comcast

        FTFY

      2. At least it wasn’t “For the Children” (NSFW).

  3. Rudd and May appear to be birds of a feather in believing that data privacy and online communications are tools of crime and terror,

    and don’t even get them started about *nails and cars*.

  4. Top U.K. Official: Give Up Your Tech Freedoms or the Terrorists Will Win

    Sorry, Ms. Top Official, but the terrorists won as soon as your proposal was thought of.


  5. But on the same day the site announced these new takedown efforts to make removal of radical content happen more quickly, a Canadian professor who made waves for saying that he refused to use newly created gender-neutral pronouns found his YouTube account suddenly locked. Jordan Peterson certainly drew criticism for his position, but it was political speech discussing a bill in the Canadian legislature.

    This is an important development, and its one that should concern Americans. All of these tech ‘luminaries’ are flying abroad and rubbing elbows with Europe’s top government officials. We see Mark Zuckerberg et. al. wearing cargo shorts and birkenstocks, talking to people like Angela Merkel who are pressuring these billionaire tweens to ‘do something’ about extremism. These TED talks idiots are all too happy to hop-to because they’re sitting at state dinners with Europe’s top officials and are completely star-struck by the process. The result is going to be a kind of quasi-government censorship. The means of production will remain in the factory owner’s hands, but the results and goals of production will be managed by the state.

    You know who else?

    1. Captain Kangaroo?

      1. We all know how he oppressed Mr. Green Jeans.

      2. free Mr. Moose!

    2. This is the shit that should really be pissing people off.

      Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Saturday promised German Chancellor Angela Merkel that his company would work on measures to combat racist and hateful comments on the social media platform.
      In comments heard over an inadvertently live microphone on the United Nations live stream at a global summit in New York, Merkel asked whether Zuckerberg intended to improve the situation, to which he answered: “Yes.”

      1. *shrug* It’s easy enough to not Facebook.

        1. I agree. But Facebook is a company that owns half a dozen platforms. Is it easy to not Facebook, not Twitter, not Youtube, not Netflix, not Amazon Prime, not Instagram, not Snapchat, not Gmail, not Hotmail, not Tumblr?

          Every one of these companies and platforms is getting corralled into this.

          Sure, I don’t do much social networking. Commenting on Hit & Run is about all the ‘social networking’ I do.

          I don’t use facebook or snapchat or instagram, but I do use Youtube and gmail quite extensively. Those platforms are now employing robot-based hate-speech detection algorithms and closing accounts, blocking videos, demonetizing them etc.

          This problem is real.

          1. Sure, I watch stuff on YouTube. But I don’t miss stuff that I don’t watch and I sure as hell don’t go there for “political” anything. I have a subscription to Netflix and if something isn’t there I don’t get crazy about it. I guess I just find it hard to get overly exercised about optional things.

            1. Well, that’s not really the point here. The mode of mass communication is pretty much the internet. And the internet consists of service providers and companies which create platforms for users to interact. Governments are increasingly pressuring these companies to cut off or diminish the free expression on these platforms using very scary methods.

              If you take the Jordan Peterson example, you’re talking about someone who reaches hundreds of thousands if not millions of users worldwide. Cutting him off has significant implications for the free expression of ideas.

              And I strongly doubt you don’t go to youtube for “anything political”. You’ve never watched the Reason videos, all of which are hosted on Youtube?

              What we’re talking about here is the co-opting and pressuring of private services by the state in an attempt to shape the message that billions of people see. That’s troubling.

        2. No, it’s fucking not. Everyone is using fuck all except Facebook for any type of event scheduling or group discussions.

          1. They are? Huh, I’ll have to swing by facebook and see what’s going on.

    3. And another.

      German justice minister to set up task force on Internet hate speech
      German Justice Minister Heiko Maas has said he will set up a task force to combat hate speech on social media platforms, notably Facebook. A number of social networks, including Facebook, are to take part.

      Is it ironic that progressive ideals are what will kill the greatest free-speech tool in the history of human kind?

      1. Only if you think “ironic” means “entirely predictable”. Progressives: even the name is a lie, since their preferred policies would drag us back into the past.

  6. Now she does have a point – the average govt snoop values [their] convenience over [your] security.

  7. Isn’t it getting a bit obvious that government taking away any remaining privacy is the goal, and they will just use whatever convenient excuse is necessary?

    If by some miracle all the current crazies suddenly decided they’d rather become atheists, how long do you think it would take for the TOP.MEN to declare that electronic privacy must go away to protect against drugs / prostitution / so-called “cyber-bullying” or whatever?

    It’s like Emmanuel Goldstein in Orwell’s novel. If he didn’t actually exist, or at least posed no real threat to the established order, they would have made him up anyway because he served a very useful purpose.

  8. And we all know how good the government is at keeping up with technology. The Social Security administration is going to quit using the abacus any day now.

  9. force social media companies to play a bigger role in censoring content by terrorists or “extremists,”

    only if I am the decider.

  10. What China couldn’t do, Europe’s enlightened leaders are succeeding.

    Yesterday Google followed suit with its own public pronouncement, via an op-ed in the FT newspaper, explaining how it’s ramping up measures to tackle extremist content.

    Both companies have been coming under increasing political pressure in Europe especially to do more to quash extremist content ? with politicians including in the UK and Germany pointing the finger of blame at platforms such as YouTube for hosting hate speech and extremist content.

    Europe has suffered a spate of terror attacks in recent years, with four in the UK alone since March. And governments in the UK and France are currently considering whether to introduce a new liability for tech platforms that fail to promptly remove terrorist content ? arguing that terrorists are being radicalized with the help of such content.

    Earlier this month the UK’s prime minister also called for international agreements between allied, democratic governments to “regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning”.

  11. More, because more.

    FOR MONTHS NOW, social media companies have been grappling with how to minimize or eradicate hate speech on their platforms. YouTube has been working to make sure advertisers’ content doesn’t show up on hateful videos. Instagram is using AI to delete unsavory comments. And earlier this week, ProPublica reported on the internal training materials Facebook gives to the content managers who moderate comments and postings on the platform on how to calculate what is and isn’t hate speech.
    According to the report, the rules use a deliberate, if strange, logic in determining how to protect certain classes of people from hate speech while not protecting others. ProPublica points to an example specific from the training materials: Facebook’s rules dictate that “white men” is a protected class whereas “black children” are not.

    1. Smart people with college degrees, and how they break down problematic speech:

      According to Facebook’s rules, there are protected categories?like sex, gender identity, race and religious affiliation?and non-protected categories?like social class, occupation, appearance, and age. If speech refers to the former, it’s hate speech; if it’s refers to the latter, it’s not. So, “we should murder all the Muslims” is hate speech. “We should murder all the poor people” is not.

      This binary designation might make some uncomfortable, but it’s when protected and unprotected classes get linked together in a sentence?a compound category?that Facebook’s policies become extra strange. Facebook’s logic dictates the following:
      Protected category + Protected category = Protected category

      Protected category + Unprotected category = Unprotected

  12. What happens when you think privacy and speech are just tools of the enemy

    The Patriot Act?

  13. If Faceberg does end up eventually becoming president (highly unlikely, but stranger things have happened), at least he won’t need the NSA since he’s already got the entire world’s private information now!

  14. It’s things like this about the UK’s culture that remind me why the people persecuted under a similar government wrote the Bill of Rights in the first place.

  15. Nice photo of Dolores Umbridge there…

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