I’m always pleased to see the recognition that, ultimately, politics is just people with lots of weapons doing what they want. In this instance, Poul-Henning Kamp, highlights the fact with respect to encryption as a “solution” to revelations about “government” spying.
INCONVENIENT FACT #1 ABOUT PRIVACY:
POLITICS TRUMPS CRYPTOGRAPHY
Nation-states have police forces with guns. Cryptographers and the IETF Internet Engineering Task Force do not.
Several nation-states, most notably the United Kingdom, have enacted laws that allow the police to jail suspects until they reveal the cryptographic keys to unlock their computers. Such laws open a host of due process and civil rights issues that we do not need to dwell on here. For now it is enough to note that such laws can be enacted and enforced.
. . .
Any person can have the right to privacy removed through whatever passes for judicial oversight in their country of residence, so that authorities can confirm or deny a suspicion of illegal activities.
. . .
if a nation-state decides that somebody should not have privacy, then it will use whatever means available to prevent that privacy.
The article is short and worth reading. The author is clearly not an economist, “In the past quarter century, international trade agreements have been the big thing: free movement of goods across borders and oceans, to the mutual benefit of all parties. I guess we all assumed that information and privacy rights would receive the same mutual respect as property rights did in these agreements, but we were wrong.”
He also has an unhealthy optimism that the guys with the guns can be persuaded to dismantle the spy agencies (who, I’m sure, have lots of dirt on the guys with the guns); all -in-all the conclusion section is the weakest part of the paper.
Overall, his point is important: as long as institutions exist that are overwhelmingly recognized to have the right to do whatever they please up to and including caging and killing anyone who doesn’t obey, encryption will, at best, protect small handfuls of people. For people generally, a general solution is necessary, which is a delegitimization of the use of force by “government.”