Online anonymity came under the spotlight again last week as a US Senate hearing discussed whether a ‘master key’ to all encrypted communications should be made available to the US security forces.
FBI Director James Comey and US Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates appeared before a committee on Wednesday called “Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy.” The term “going dark” is used to describe the act of encrypting online communications to avoid them being intercepted by either mass or targeted surveillance.
As reported by Democracy Now, Yates and Comey acknowledged in a joint statement that to ensure a thriving democracy and the free flow of information, “citizens have the right to communicate with one another in private without unauthorised government surveillance”. That said, the duo also argued for so-called extraordinary access mandates, which is back-door access to all encrypted communications for the security agency if required: “When changes in technology hinder law enforcement’s ability to exercise investigative tools and follow critical leads, we may not be able to identify and stop terrorists who are using social media to recruit, plan and execute an attack in our country”, they said.
By contrast, a recent UN report published by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, says that restrictions on encryption and online anonymity contravene human rights laws.
Online privacy has been a hot topic also in Europe in recent months as the UK Government announced plans to bring back the controversial ‘Snoopers Charter’ following the election – which could deem similar measures lawful in the UK. Also the Queen’s Speech mentioned the Investigatory Powers Bill as she highlighted the need for government access to all communications in the name of national security.