Marginalized communities, survivors of abuse, politicians, law enforcement — they all use encrypted communications to keep their information safe. But the encryption of the kinds of services you and I use every day — from messaging to confidential internal company communications — is increasingly under threat by governments globally. The reasons are sometimes understandable, such as the protection of children, but more often than not it’s about state snooping and control of populations, especially in authoritarian regimes. Democratic countries that give the green light to breaking encryption make it easier for dictatorships to argue in its favor.
That’s why a group of civil society organizations and technology companies is today launching a campaign in favor of strong encryption on what they are calling “Global Encryption Day”.
Edward Snowden, the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations and Board Member of Freedom of the Press Foundation, will launch the day at a special broadcast today at 6am PT / 9am ET / 2pm BST / 3pm CET, which you’ll be able to watch live here:
While governments worldwide often bleat about criminals exploiting encryption messaging to hide illegal activity, proposals to weaken or undermine strong encryption are far more likely to leave users more vulnerable to cyberattacks and criminal activity, because once you create those backdoors, anyone can use them.
In a statement, Snowden said: “If you weaken encryption, people will die. This year alone, after the fall of the government of Afghanistan, we saw how crucial encryption is in keeping ordinary people safe. The Covid pandemic brought home how essential encrypted messaging apps on our smartphones are for communicating with loved ones if we’re ill and need help… It would have been impossible for me to whistleblow without encryption.”
He added: “Despite this, governments around the world are seeking to weaken encryption by calling on platforms to create ‘backdoors’ for law enforcement… Weakening encryption would be a colossal mistake that could put thousands of lives at risk.”
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia said: “Protecting strong encryption is essential for protecting the human rights of millions of people around the world. Everyone has the right to privacy and security… Weakening encryption puts us all at risk. When we started Wikipedia, it was prohibitively expensive to use secure encryption for every page on the site, but it was always a priority of ours and we introduced it as soon as we could. There is no excuse for not using encryption now — governments and technology platforms have a duty to protect the public.”
Global Encryption Day will also feature a series of other online events, including LGBT Tech hosting an Instagram Live, and a leading civil society group in Brazil hosting an all-women panel discussing the importance of encryption.
The Global Encryption Coalition (GEC) was founded by the Center for Democracy & Technology, Global Partners Digital and the Internet Society.