The new government anti-encryption campaign, ‘No Place to Hide’, has a great many problems. It’s based on many false assumptions, but the biggest of all of these is the whole idea that hiding is a bad thing. It can be, of course, when ‘bad guys’ hide from the authorities, which is what the government is grasping at, but in practice we *all* need to be able to hide sometimes.
Indeed, the weaker and more vulnerable we are, the more we need places to hide. The more predators we face, the more we need places to hide. And if we believe – and the government campaign is based on this assumption – that there are a lot of dangerous predators around on the internet – that becomes especially important. Places to hide become critical. Learning how to hide becomes critical. Having the tools and techniques not just available for a few, specially talented or trained individuals but for everyone, including the most vulnerable, becomes critical.
This means that the tools and systems used by those people – the mainstream systems, the most popular networks and messaging services – are the ones where safety is the most important, where privacy is the most important. Geeks and nerds can always find their own way to do this – it’s no problem for an adept to use their own encryption tools, or to communicate using secure systems such as Signal, or even to build their own tools. They’re not the ones that are the issue here. It’s the mainstream that matters – which is why the government campaign is so fundamentally flawed. They want to stop Facebook rolling out end-to-end encryption on Facebook’s messenger – when that’s exactly what’s needed to help.
We should be encouraging more end-to-end encryption, not less. We should be teaching our kids how to be more secure and more private online – and letting them teach us at the same time. They know more about the need for privacy than we often give them credit for. We need to learn how to trust them too.