Living here in the United States, it continues to disappoint me every single day to see so many of my peers taking their lifestyles and freedoms for granted, blissfully unaware of how good they have it while other people continue to struggle and die all around the world. For the purposes of this article, I would like to talk about freedom of speech and expression, and how this is not necessarily a luxury afforded to some people living outside of “Western society.”
A piece of news came out earlier this month that, in my opinion, perfectly highlights why more people around the world need to support encryption and the idea of “open internet,” even if it does not impact their lives directly right now. On August 2nd 2017, Middle East Eye announced that Syrian-Palestinian activist Bassel Khartabil was confirmed dead. Prior to this announcement, Khartabil had not been heard of or seen in over two years following his incarceration at the hands of the Syrian Government in 2015. At the time, Khartabil was considered one of the worlds foremost advocates for internet freedom and was wanted for his role in promoting the Syrian uprising of 2012.
While I did not know this man personally, unfortunately, his story is not an unfamiliar one to me. I have worked with people whom had friends killed in the Egyptian uprising of 2011 and I have assisted people whom had family members killed in the Ethiopian Oromia protests of 2015. These people were killed for simply publicly speaking out against the abuses and injustices carried out at the hands their Government. These are also not isolated events. While people in the United States take the right to free speech and peaceably assembly for granted, people all across the world are killed for doing the same exact thing.
So, what does any of this have to do with encryption and why do I even bother bringing it up? While these Governments were busy shutting down social media and killing people in the streets to prevent protesters from gathering momentum, I was busy setting up secure and encrypted chatrooms for Egyptian/Ethiopian activists to safely organize events and communicate with one another. Without secure and encrypted communications, none of these people would have otherwise had the means to talk with one another, or would have faced imprisonment or death when they were caught doing so – come at me Mubarak!
I understand that most people are not as talented, intelligent or empathetic as me, but I am not responsible for other peoples ignorance, nor do I have the patience for it. Truth be told, I am writing this article in response to a recent Op-Ed written by Britain’s Homeland Secretary, Amber Rudd. In it, she questions the type of people that actually need encryption rights and secure communications in the first place, implying that encryption is a tool only utilized by criminals and terrorists. Quite frankly, her ignorance was too great to over look.
If you have read this article to this point then I think it goes without saying, but to answer the question as to what type of people actually need encryption in our day in age, it is people and civilians whom are being slaughtered by their Governments for simply speaking out in public. The political Oligarchs riding their high horses inside British Parliament might not realize it, but people all around the world are being killed every single day for simply speaking out about human rights and against War and Government abuses. These people have done nothing wrong other then express their concerns and opinions, and these are exactly the people who need encryption rights – id est – to be protected.
In response to this Op-Ed, as was also reported by Cynthia M. Wong, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, “Who else uses end-to-end encryption? The list is long. Peaceful pro-democracy and reform activists in places like Hong Kong, Turkey, Central Africa, and across the Middle East. LGBT people living in countries where their sexual orientation is criminalized. Whistleblowers who reveal governmental or corporate malfeasance. Journalists everywhere trying to protect their sources.”
Like me, she was concerned at what she perceives to be a “fundamental misunderstanding of modern cybersecurity threats – and the harms of undermining encryption” by some of the worlds foremost political leaders, and justifiably so.
While Rudd says that she does not seek to ban end-to-end encryption inside Britain, she is not exactly supportive of it either and only released her Op-Ed in order to indoctrinate more British citizens to stand against it in the future. Her article in Telegraph.uk came a little after a month after the Parliament of the European Union came out with a new piece of legislation that would ban encryption backdoors in the future. Much like the EU’s immigration policy, Britain strongly disagrees with the EU’s new encryption policy, only adding to the list of disagreements between the two parties as the “Brexit” negotiations are allegedly set to begin shortly.
If you would like to learn more about this individual piece of legislation, along with a counter argument to strong encryption rights that I published in the article, please follow the link through the Twitter feed below: