On Monday, a vigil and march were held in Paris after a violent and deadly Islamic terrorist attack on the offices of the satirical news publication, Charlie Hebdo. The attacks and ensuing hostage crisis left one cartoonist and 16 others dead. Participants held pens of all sizes in the air to demonstrate their support of free speech and marched in a show of solidarity that went from sombre to celebratory.
British Prime Minister David Cameron made an appearance at this Unity March. He used the incident to unveil his intentions to push legislation that seeks to ban software that allows extremely private communication to which the government has no access. Apps that give the government the ability to spy on people would be okay though. Popular apps, such as Snapchat and Whatsapp could be on the chopping block if the Prime Minister gets his way.
Cameron told ITV News: “I think we cannot allow modern forms of communication to be exempt from the ability, in extremis, with a warrant signed by the Home Secretary, to be exempt from being listened to. That is my very clear view and if I am Prime Minister after the next election I will make sure we legislate accordingly.”
While privacy advocates may be at arms over the declaration — it is worth noting that the Prime Minister had already attempted, and failed, to push such legislation in the past. This appeared in the form of the Snoopers’ Charter, which was blocked by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and his liberal democrat supporters. However, if Cameron wins another term and the UK political landscape changes, he may not find himself blocked, as he once was.
Some might find it ironic or even inappropriate that the Prime Minister chose a demonstration that champions freedom of speech to unveil anti-privacy intentions. Indeed, Big Brother Watch director Emma Carr stated: “It is wholly unacceptable for this tragedy in Paris to be used as a means to call for a return of the snooper’s charter.”
It is uncertain weather politicians in the UK will be phased by the violent attacks outside of their borders. Even if Cameron is re-elected, it seems that democrats in parliament would need to lose considerable ground before such a bill could make its way to law.
Another possible issue with such a ban is enforcement. Removing privacy and encryption apps from various app-stores is not likely to thwart dedicated criminals. Third-party apps can easily be installed from other sources. Would such legislation be more likely to make the communications of common individuals less secure while being rather ineffective against professional criminals? Does the prime minister also plan on monitoring what apps people have installed on their devices?
What do you readers think? Is having a backdoor to possibly years of a person’s chat and e-mail history the same as listening in on phone calls that would cease to exist if the conversation was never recorded? Do you think the popularity of portable devices and the internet have made the world a more, or less private place? Is such legislation worth the loss of privacy if it can help prevent terrorism? Please let us know in the comments below.