censorshipFree speech, freedom of the press, and free private communication are the same. All three hinge on freedom to speak without fear, without regard to oversight by the state. All three hinge on liberty of thought. The freedom to think freely, without fear, without oversight, and share those thoughts, is the guiding principle that has underpinned the march of civilization since the Renaissance. And there is no justification to abdicate it to compromised and deeply untrustworthy governments out of fear.

Cory Doctorow has already detailed at length the technical, practical, and some of the ethical objections to the plan for a “golden key” to decrypt any and all public messaging and communications traffic at the state’s discretion, as advocated by the UK’s David Cameron. As he says:

There’s no back door that only lets good guys go through it. If your Whatsapp or Google Hangouts has a deliberately introduced flaw in it, then foreign spies, criminals, crooked police (like those who fed sensitive information to the tabloids who were implicated in the hacking scandal — and like the high-level police who secretly worked for organised crime for years), and criminals will eventually discover this vulnerability. They — and not just the security services — will be able to use it to intercept all of our communications. That includes things like the pictures of your kids in your bath that you send to your parents.

And now Obama is jumping on the same bandwagon too. And PEN America, in its report “Global chilling: The impact of Mass Surveillance on International Writers,” has already demonstrated the self-censorship that even the level of mass surveillance we have now has induced in intellectual and artistic life. What would Cameron-style universal decryption do?

As Doctorow outlines it, the UK and U.S. governments can only really make this work by introducing an IT policy so Orwellian that it makes anything China and Iran have done childsplay in comparison. Anything less “will have no material effect on the ability of criminals to carry on perfectly secret conversations that ‘we cannot read’.” So we’re most likely to be left with a policy that both abandons one of the basic principles of our democratic freedom and is practically pointless. As it happens, the Charlie Hebdo perps were already on the grid, and if that atrocity is a demonstration of what one of the Western world’s strongest and most unaccountable state apparatuses can do with the information it has, then the state has won zero points for competence as a defense against terrorism, let alone justification to hand over even more. Who would ever believe that they’re only going to use powers of universal decryption with discretion? Especially if they themselves are beyond oversight?

The states that are advocating this are exactly those that have committed war crimes and covered for predatory pedophiles within their own ranks. What right do they have to ask us to trust them? Furthermore, there’s no justification in international law not to give those golden keys to governments in China, Russia, and Iran – least of all when Western governments have already abandoned the right to privacy and free thought at home. And as should be blindingly obvious to anyone without a hidden agenda, state-mandated universal decryption will not even touch those already beyond the law. They’ll just vanish completely into the darknets or use their own unbreakable encryption. Probably they’ve done this already. The golden key can only unlock the secrets of the innocent.

The Charlie Hebdo atrocity has demonstrated that our liberties and security are under threat from two directions: from fundamentalist terrorists, and from predatory states. Charlie Hebdo’s staff died for free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of thought. Don’t let the state be the first to take those away.


  1. I don’t think ” Free speech, freedom of the press, and free private communication
    are the same. ” As nowadays there are very cheap satellite phones in market and we have privacy threat on that. Anyone can hack our mobile/sim very easily and can sneak in to our private chats and calls . As you are talking about whatsapp or google hangouts , there is no encrypted data shared when we send the pictures or while doing chats.

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