After running Linux for almost 20 years and working in IT for the time it takes to reach the age of being allowed to buy and drink alcohol* in the Netherlands the day has come to start using encrypted e-mail in a serious way.
The reasons for using encrypted e-mail have been the same for years and years now, but over the last few days those reasons have been made visible in the general public by the press and other important organisations like Bits of Freedom. I would sum them up like this..
Reason number 1: your communication should be private and stay that way
Reason number 2: you have to be sure that privacy has not been compromised in transit
Now that it has become publicly known that the USA government and also the Dutch government are willingly and knowingly harvesting private communication traffic details, but also private communication content details it is even more important to use encrypted e-mail.
The government should respect privacy. Things like what religion you practice, what books you read, which websites you visit, where you spend your holidays, what you do for a hobby should not be registered by the government. And absolutely not for longer periods of time. Not even if that might make it easier to solver murders, prevent child’s pornografy or make criminal offenses easier to solve in general.
There are a lot of good examples why that should not be done, and they all boil down to the same reason: that information can be used to discriminate on unethical grounds in the future.
The best example of this is found in recent violent history, in an event that has left marks in almost every family across the world. It is such a good example exactly because of the global impact it had.
The example is found on the wiki page about jews in the Netherlands under the capture Holocaust. On that page there is a link to a page on the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs. Quote: “In their preparations for the extermination of the Jews living in The Netherlands, the Germans could count on the assistance of the greater part of the Dutch administrative infrastructure.”
That basically boils down to: if the Dutch government would not have kept records of the religion of it’s inhabitants then it would have been far more difficult for the Nazi regime to deport all those Jews and a lot less would have been murdered.
You might think well that is a harsh statement.
But consider this potential case:
A law gets passed that everyone that has been smoking cigarettes is from now on being declined health care services from insurance companies. To enforce that insurance companies can file a request at the secret services inquiry desk to see if a certain insured person has been buying cigarettes or other tobacco products over the last 5 years. The secret services desk can deduct a yes or no answer from your electronic payments combined with bookkeeping of the tobacco shops of the last 7 years already. To store that amount of data costs only a few megabyte.
Almost sounds reasonable doesn’t it? We all know that tobacco kills for quite some years now.
Now you could try to start a court case stating that ‘buying the stuff does not mean you are using it, you could just as well been giving away all those cigarettes’. Sounds like an easy case. But the secret services also have a complete log of your gmail/hotmail e-mail and your facebook/flickr data. A little bit of data-mining and there is a list of your 30 e-mails over the past 10 years where you have mentioned that you smoked or wanted to smoke. And then there are all these pictures that show you holding a cigarette.
Does it still sound like a good idea to for those governments to keep all that data stored somewhere?
It probably does not sound like a good idea to most of the people that are on the planet today.
And yet it is happening. Why? Because it is cheap enough to do it. And because the institutions that are in power can use it to their advantage. It is not going to stop, not even if we all agree that it has to stop.
And that is why you have to stop the possibility to harvest your data at the start, with strong encryption. So what is the easiest place to start to communicate privately again?
Now all I have to do is get my parents, aunts, brothers and sisters, close friends and more distant friends to use encryption to communicate with me. Not only that, they also have to be able to use it in a secure and understanding way.
There is only one good way to do that, and I have already started work for it today. It is by showing them how in an understandable way. And reminding them over and over again on why we need to do this.
* I’m sorry, some links are in Dutch, and they should be.
(Manually imported from old Tumblr blog at 2016-08-11 by Koen, added image too)