While I’m glad to see the use of Signal on the rise, I am afraid that current events will cause the “government should have access into all encryption” debate to come up again, and people may think it’s a good idea out of fear. It’s not. Here’s why:

As the global pandemic has kept everyone at home, our interaction with everything and everyone has increasingly had more of a digital footprint than ever before. That digital footprint without encryption exposes a lot of information.

Encryption is needed due to the way the Internet works. The Internet is a loose confederation of companies, educational institutions, and telecommunication providers. Everything passes through networks owned by others.

Without encryption, any party along the way can see what you’re doing. What web pages you’re visiting. Contents of your email. Your instant messages and texts. It’s all visible, trackable, traceable.

Encryption is the basis for our only chance of privacy online. Whether it’s privacy from your stalker ex, from retailers, advertisers, or the government – the only thing that keeps others from seeing everything you do online is encryption.

People deserve to not have their every online move scrutinized, analyzed, and archived forever. Everyone should have the right to be able to interact in the digital world without fear. The only way to enable this is through encryption.

But, you say, if you’re not doing anything illegal, what is the harm in the government being able to access things that are encrypted? I’ll give you three simple reasons.

1) Encryption that can be bypassed by any third party must be fundamentally weakened. When I started in this field, DES encryption was common – which can now be cracked in seconds on a smartphone. Anything that weakens encryption must be avoided.

2) The US government’s own security is so bad (see: SolarWinds, Shadow Brokers, OPM breaches) that eventually whatever backdoor they have access to will eventually make it out of the government’s hands and into the hands of enemies.

3) Encryption that can be bypassed by the government will eventually be abused. We have already seen the US create illegal mass surveillance capabilities, and this capability will just agencies give carte blanche to do it again.

So – when the debate around “government should be able to view all encrypted internet traffic to keep us safe” starts up again – educate your representatives on why it’s a bad idea for all of us. Get them to commit to voting against it.

Ben Franklin’s quote rings out: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Encryption is the key to the liberty of privacy online. Do not give it up in the false hope of safety.