FBI on encryption: nothing to hide, nothing to fear?

9074740413_bd2d118133_c-thumb-570x378-125862Ever since the revelations from Edward Snowden became public last year, there has been an increased interest in encryption and online privacy. This has led companies like Apple and Google to encrypt or protect their new operating systems with coding by default. The FBI isn’t happy with the news.

Last week, FBI Director James Comey said in a speech at the Brookings Institute, “We have the legal authority to intercept and access communications from information pursuant to court order, but we often lack the technical ability to do so.” Adding that the move by tech companies to protect user communications in the name of privacy is certain to impede a wide range of criminal investigations.

The AP reports, at least three “examples the FBI director has cited are not so cut and dry. They are cases in which the authorities were tipped off – or even solved the crime – through means other than examining data they took from victims or suspects.” However, Comey is still pushing for tech companies to give them backdoors to allow them unfettered access to people’s data.

The EFF wrote, “the FBI is trying to convince the world that some fantasy version of security is possible—where ‘good guys’ can have a back door or extra key to your home but bad guys could never use it.” Adding, “Comey wants everybody to have weak security, so that when the FBI decides somebody is a ‘bad guy,’ it has no problem collecting personal data.”

In essence, James Comey is saying, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear,” and privacy groups are responding, “if the FBI gets its way… we’ll all end up less secure and enjoying less privacy.”

Luckily, there are companies and products that are helping people maintain their privacy online. One such product is The Onion Router (TOR), a browser bundle that encrypts online data, which was used by Private Manning to send files to Wikileaks in 2010. There are also Virtual Private Networks (VPN) that will encrypt the data being sent and received online. One company called Anonabox is claiming to have created a router that will direct all of your internet traffic through TOR, which eliminates the need to install software on your computer. Anonabox was hoping to raise $7,500 in 30 days using the KickStarter fundraising site. They wound up raising over half a million dollars in less than 3 days, and ended the campaign two days later. It turns out, that Anonabox actually lost some of it’s funding before the campaign ended. Wired reports, some people were accusing the project’s creators of fraud and “the backlash against that project had become so severe that its total funding was actually ticking down rather than up, as disillusioned backers pulled their pledges faster than others could make them.”

I believe that people should do what they can to protect their privacy online, and this means doing some work to make sure the products and programs that claim to encrypt your data are actually doing just that. To those who are against the idea of encrypting data, and who say “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear,” I say, if you don’t care about your privacy, then post all of your usernames and passwords online, post your Social Security Number, bank account number, credit card numbers, etc online for the world to see; after all you’re the one who believes “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear!”

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