The question of whether to encrypt your messages—presumably a privacy-conscious gift for you this holiday season—is an intractable one. But there’s no reason it should be.
How can data be more secure, and who decides where it should be protected? And what about us? We–the consumers–aren’t concerned at all about using encryption for messages, right? Don’t ask me, I just read the definition of a data breach the other day.
Yet the popular narrative–that we should, say, embrace President Trump’s call for end-to-end encryption for cellphones and computers—is a false one. After all, what do we know about how governments monitor (or destroy) security features built into our electronic devices and computers? An experiment by a journalist from the publication Lawfare (on which I have an overall leave-taking from), shows that while it’s statistically almost impossible for security protections to be completely disregarded by a nation state, that didn’t stop them from taking advantage of it.
Maybe we should vote on whether and how our surveillance authorities can be used against us and our privacy rights or whether, like the state, we are largely out of the equation.
For any privacy-conscious people still hungry for more data protection in the age of open data–and who isn’t?–this holiday season could be a good time to try encryption. Consider a product that offers up the industry’s most advanced Signal Protocol security standard for free. Or a web browser with a custom encryption option, or a mobile phone with built-in decryption to encrypt your messages, or a phone with two-factor authentication, or a computer with the AES-256 security standard for your encrypting, and probably your most valuable files. If you have a technology-savvy cousin or a student with access to coding or encryption skills, consider combining these products into a bundle for a savings of hundreds of dollars.
Technology makes it easy to build our own privacy protection, and the NSA (and its spies) have found that there’s no absolute way to encrypt. But it is possible to just encrypt everything: Write it all down, and just encrypt it. (These days, many systems with data encryption capabilities already lock down conversations, when contacted over a third-party communications service.) We all have certain technologies we can use to encrypt our conversations, and perhaps your child might learn to use them in high school.
So go ahead, buy privacy-conscious Christmas gifts for others. One of the underappreciated benefits of a secure society is that it’s easier to protect your own privacy, and we can do that both by using our own devices and by building our own products and services that enable others to use theirs. These are gift ideas that the NSA won’t find out about, and they will make us much safer.