Recently an attempt was made to blow up local trains in Germany. This reignited the discussion about how such threats could be foreseen and averted. In the course of these discussions, the subject of encryption came into the cross-hairs: after all, encryption makes it possible for terrorists to communicate with each other and to protect those communications from prying eyes.
However, not everyone who uses encryption is a terrorist. For your average user (home or business, take your pick), encryption is a method to ensure security, whether it’s when transmitting confidential data over the Internet, or simply to ensure that data on a laptop will remain secure if the machine is stolen. Encryption isn’t automatically evil – on the contrary, if someone uses encryption, it shows that s/he is both responsible and conscious of security issues.
Some German politicians are calling for encryption to be made illegal; or for it to be legal only if the state is provided with the key used. Such a stance clearly shows how far legislation can be from reality. After all, it’s illegal to blow up trains – but that doesn’t stop terrorists from doing this. Restricting the use of encryption in the name of anti-terrorism is a red herring; it won’t stop terrorists, and it will seriously inconvenience home and business users who are taking responsibility for their data security into their own hands.
If it were to be suggested that people shouldn’t lock their front doors on the grounds of security, the media outcry would be huge. However, many politicians, as well as the population at large, seem to be stretching the idea of data security beyond all reasonable limits. This is muddying the waters, and gives rise to the fear that restrictions on encryption may soon find their way onto the statute books.