Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Privacy Is OK

Reid Blackman (Hacker News):

Like Messages on your iPhone, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, Signal uses end-to-end encryption, making it impossible for the company to read the contents of user messages. But unlike those other companies, Signal also refrains from collecting metadata about its users. The company doesn’t know the identity of users, which users are talking to one another or who is in a group message. It also allows users to set timers that automatically delete messages from the sender’s and receiver’s accounts.


This level of privacy can be beneficial on a number of fronts. For instance, Signal is used by journalists to communicate with confidential sources. But it is no coincidence that criminals have also used this government-evading technology.


What’s more, the company’s proposition that if anyone has access to data, then many unauthorized people probably will have access to that data is false. This response reflects a lack of faith in good governance, which is essential to any well-functioning organization or community seeking to keep its members and society at large safe from bad actors.

Meredith Whittaker (via Hacker News):

OK! let’s talk about That Op-ed. The one that insisted not only that privacy is dangerous, but that not affirmatively building surveillance into communication tools is a radical ideological position.


The op-ed works to create the appearance of a “debate” on more or less settled issues. This is a powerful function, bolstered by the NYT imprimatur, which allows it serve as a “Potemkin citation” -- a seemingly credible reference in support of bad privacy laws and platforms.

Tim Bray:

I’m sorry to be the bearer of of bad news, but it’s simply not possible to address the downside without completely shattering the upside. Here are three reasons why[…]


Privacy is a good thing, one of the benefits of being a member of a civilization. People want it and are justified in wanting it. Now they can have it. There have been no credible proposals for taking privacy away just from the bad people, and I’ll be astonished if there ever are.

Nick Heer:

Blackman does not present any evidence for how Signal — or any comparable application — would be able to turn the binary question of whether something is end-to-end encrypted into a gradient of access levels. In fact, this whole piece feels very much like a slippery slope argument itself: if you use Signal, you are a “witting or unwitting” proponent for adding barriers to prosecuting criminals.

This all feels very familiar. One would think prestige newspapers would stop publishing such well-worn ideas without further development of their arguments but, well, here we are.


1 Comment RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Old Unix Geek

Somehow detectives, police officers, and so on, were able to solve crimes before the advent of mobile phones and computers. Yes, it took time, effort, and intelligence. Then they got lazy, or cheap, and found it easier to to pry into everyone's effects. The solution to this problem is simple: fire the incompetent, and replace them with competent people who track down crimes instead of snooping on other people's conversations, locations, medical status, etc.

One either believes in democracy which requires freedom and privacy, or one doesn't. These lazy louts clearly don't. Whatever boosts their career prospects is all that matters to them, as the Aaron Schwartz episode demonstrated, and to my mind the Assange imprisonment.

Unfortunately Signal isn't a cure-all. At best, it is only part of the toolbox. If someone owns your device by installing a key-logger, it's game over. That someone could be your OS/hardware manufacturer. I still recall Windows shipping with a "NSA_Key" debug variable... and Snowden's revelations showed how the NSA tampered with 3rd party hardware as it was shipped from the manufacturer to the customer.

But I am amazed that so many people still believe this notion that "our authorities are good, and deserve access, unlike criminals and other countries". How many lessons do they need? The Pentagon Papers? The Snowden revelations? The Twitter files? The pattern is pretty clear, and it can't be explained away as "just a few bad apples": it's systemic.

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