David Cameron is like a dog with a bone on this topic, he has made efforts to ban encryption during his stay as prime minister of the UK while they were in a coalition. Now that his party has won out an outright majority he is reissuing his appeal to ban encryption, putting Britain on a collision course with basically every single large tech company. He is claiming that by having such strong encryption practises so common place, terrorists will have a safe haven in which to communicate. Everyday companies such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Google and Apples iPhone have all made drastic improvements to their services security procedures in order to create a more secure environment for their consumers. Stronger encryption practices have become common place in the wake of the Snowden Leaks. Security experts at Google, felt violated themselves after learning the extent to which the NSA’s spying went by hacking into Google’s system and breaking their own work, so they patched as many problems as they could find in a bid to prevent further unlawful breaches.
While the public see this as a good thing (which it is), David Cameron isn’t going to stand for it. After a wave of fresh terrorist attacks abroad Cameron has renewed his vigour to ban encryption with the rhetoric of shielding terrorists; just as the US did with pedophiles after Apple increased security in iOS 8. Currently in the UK you can be jailed for refusing to give law enforcement officials your password but if someone still doesn’t give in they still ‘need’ to get into the phone/laptop/what have you.
While we are all aware of the NSA programs and their mass surveillance, what is lesser known is that the NSA, whenever they hit a rare legal boundary, could query the UK’s own database for their mass surveillance data that is collected over at GCHQ. With this statement the UK government will required that large companies with have to provide them with a “way in” by building vulnerabilities into the software. Security experts have warned that there is no way to make a back door for just the ‘good guys’ as hackers with malicious intent will always find a way to exploit these vulnerabilities.
Realistically, you cannot ban encryption to an effective extent in any western developed country. It would bring a level of censorship to the internet that countries like Iran, Turkey and Russia currently employ, not to mention the ‘Great Firewall of China’ which I speculate the UK couldn’t afford to implement. Even with infrastructure like the ‘Great Firewall of China’, activists and generally tech savvy users can still avoid it and get information through. Filtration aside, encryption for a lot of developers has been a passion and they would contribute to open source projects. This would mean that the UK government would have to police popular code repositories such as GitHub and BitBucket. These are sites that allow any user to clone a project and make modifications to it, meaning that anyone could have a copy of it stored to be distributed at any time. So it would not really be possible for Cameron to have all of the strong encryption projects killed or restricted to his satisfaction.
As we know the NSA’s Prism project which was the centre of all the controversy has been killed on the floor of the US senate and has 6 months to cease operations; excluding a ‘grandfather clause’ which allows them to continue operations on existing leads. This being said the GCHQ’s operations have basically run amok with little to no oversight as well as an arguably more extensive and invasive reach than Prism ever had. So if, theoretically, Cameron were to succeed the UK government would have all of our data collected in bulk and at their disposal and unencrypted. I wouldn’t be too worried though, it sounds like that time an Irish politician Patrick O’Donovan called for a ban on ‘Open Source Internet Browsers’, which is basically Firefox and most other smaller browsers. politicians and tech don’t really mix.