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Speaking to a room full of party activists in the British city of Nottingham this week, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that encryption for messaging would be banned should his party gain a majority at the next General Election on May 7th of this year.

This ban would impact not only Snapchat and any other apps that use encryption for communications, but potentially also the iPhone, following Apple’s decision to make the newer models “warrant proof” How Apple Is Monetizing Privacy With iOS 8 How Apple Is Monetizing Privacy With iOS 8 Read More .

Just a few days after the terrible murders in the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris #JeSuisCharlie: Murder, Cartoons and Barbara Streisand #JeSuisCharlie: Murder, Cartoons and Barbara Streisand Today, in response to a horrible terror attack in France, the Internet was at it's best. Read More , the biggest headline of several weeks of unrest in France, Cameron was speaking about the importance of his government being able to read any communication it pleased.

This was just after he marched in Paris in the name of freedom of speech.

Forget the fact that a British Prime Minister seems to be riding on the coattails of dead Frenchmen in order to get his own way; let’s look at the facts instead.

Prime Minister David Cameron Speaks About Banning Encrypted Messaging

This is what Cameron said about dealing with systems that don’t allow messages to be snooped.

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“Do we want to allow a means of communication between two people which even in extremis with a signed warrant from the home secretary personally that we cannot read? My answer to that question is no, we must not. The first duty of any government is to keep our country and our people safe.”

As you may know, self-destructing messenger Snapchat Send Self-Destructing Risqué Photos & Videos With Snapchat [iOS & Android] Send Self-Destructing Risqué Photos & Videos With Snapchat [iOS & Android] So you want to text someone a private flirty or goofy photo or video of yourself, but you know that images and videos can be shared and circulated on the Internet very quickly. Well it... Read More enables a message to be sent securely with encryption; once sent it is deleted securely, an action repeated on the recipient’s device.

Suspecting that Islamic terrorists will be using Snapchat or other encrypted messaging services 6 Secure iOS Messaging Apps That Take Privacy Very Seriously 6 Secure iOS Messaging Apps That Take Privacy Very Seriously Don't fancy your messages being read by unwanted parties? Get a secure messaging app and worry no more. Read More to communicate within the UK to plan attacks, rather than using the tried-and-tested face-to-face meetings of revolutionaries and fifth columnists of times past, Prime Minister Cameron believes that this overt surveillance is an intrusion that can help save lives.

David Cameron, Master of Technology and Online Security

While President Barack Obama continues to insist that increased NSA surveillance has saved lives, there are few such attempts in the UK to make such an assertion. Perhaps the difference is the case of Drummer Lee Rigby, a young military man in Woolwich, South London, who was slain in 2013 in broad daylight, first knocked down and then executed by two men claiming to be Muslims.

As noted in The Observer newspaper, mass surveillance wouldn’t have saved Lee Rigby because his killers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, were already known to MI5, who already had the tools to monitor their communications.

Over the past ten years or so, increased surveillance in the UK has seen more CCTV in towns and cities, restricted access to The Pirate Bay (although this can be circumnavigated 5 Ways To Bypass The UK Pirate Bay Block 5 Ways To Bypass The UK Pirate Bay Block A recent UK high court ruling from a case brought by the British Phonographic Industry (the UK version of RIAA) means that The Pirate Bay is now inaccessible from many ISPs, with BT and remaining... Read More ), the introduction of online censorship, and making it a criminal offence to refuse to divulge passwords to encrypted storage. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that communications in the UK are monitored by GCHQ Cheap Windows Laptops For All, Spies Manipulating The Internet, And More... [Tech News Digest] Cheap Windows Laptops For All, Spies Manipulating The Internet, And More... [Tech News Digest] Web companies fight for net neutrality, Sotheby's and eBay join forces, scientists have too much time on their hands, a reason to buy a smartwatch, and proof that cancelling Comcast is a complete nightmare. Read More .

Yet these steps don’t appear to have saved any lives.

How Might Snapchat Be Banned?

Short of instituting some sort of ban on the listing of Snapchat in the Android and iOS app stores in the UK, it seems quite a challenge for the British Government to be able to realistically ban such encrypted communications.

muo-security-uk-encryption-snapchat

Even if listings were restricted, there would still be the option of sideloading for Android users, pretty much negating any ban. Putting the onus on the ISPs and mobile providers to manage the ban, meanwhile, would prove hugely unpopular with those organizations, especially after the introduction of opt-out censorship in 2013 Internet Censorship In The UK - Why It Won't Work Internet Censorship In The UK - Why It Won't Work David Cameron's Internet filtering plans have started a stir. The contours of his plans are still not clear, but opinions are being formed as the debate rages across the U.K. and the world. I'm completely... Read More .

Furthermore, threatening to ban a popular app that a great deal of people under age 30 use is unlikely to endear the British PM to a vast demographic in an election year.

Still, if Cameron is looking for some tips, there are some other countries that have already placed restrictions on encryption. Presumably, those friendly nations such as Russia, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Tunisia and Morocco.

Sickened much?

Why Banning Encryption Is Madness

You’re probably already realising this, but we’ll spell it out. Banning encryption for a single app isn’t possible. We either have encryption, or we don’t.

With encryption we have secure online shopping, personal data kept from the eyes of criminals, secure cloud storage, and corporate and government secrets kept safe.

muo-security-uk-encryption-board

Since 2010, the British government has been a coalition, with the Cameron’s Conservative Party as the majority (the Liberal Democrats of Nick Clegg are the unpopular props). Cameron hopes to go solo in May 2015, forming a government of purely Conservative MPs. To do this he needs votes, and to get those he needs funding for promotion, money from big businesses, modern multi-national organizations with UK roots… all of which require online encryption in order to remain competitive in the modern world.

Encryption is vital for our online security – for shopping, sharing data, and working. These things are all vital components of modern life that face being unbuilt by a Luddite politician, seemingly unaware (or perhaps not) of all the social and economic problems that would occur as a result.

Short of implementing a new national Internet that is more extreme than China’s or Iran’s, with encryption certificates signed by the Home Office (still susceptible to man in the middle attacks) or reverting the UK to a pre-digital revolution state, there is no way Cameron’s dreams of a Snapchat-free world can possibly come to fruition.

You can see why Cameron’s plans are at best ill-thought out, and at worst… well, I’ll let you decide on your own epithet.

What do you think? Is there a realistic chance that Snapchat could be banned? Does overt surveillance stop terrorism?

Image Credit: Encryption via Shutterstock, Snapchat courtesy Gil C / Shutterstock.com

  1. Dave P
    January 24, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    What these political clowns seem to constantly forget (both in the UK and the USA) is that we, the public, put them where they are to serve US. WE are supposed to their masters - NOT the other way round. They seem to suddenly get a proverbial bee in the bonnet about something that they actually know very little about and push it through parliament by fair means or foul to suit their own agenda. All this rubbish about stopping terrorism or child abuse is just so much rhetoric and an excuse to spy even further on their constituents. Not that word - CONSTITUENTS! Members of Parliament are supposed to honorable to the people that voted them in - it's even in their job title - and most of them are demonstrably nowhere near living up to that description. Frankly, I despair.

    • Christian Cawley
      January 29, 2015 at 6:59 pm

      As they say in The House, Dave P, "hear, hear"!

  2. Dann Albright
    January 20, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Interesting points . . . although the UK seems to be following the US in civilian surveillance, I can't imagine Cameron actually going through with this. He may think that it's a good idea, but I have to believe that there are enough people out there who would tell him what a monumental undertaking it would be to ban these sorts of apps . . . and how little it would do to curb "terroristic" communication. They'll just find other ways that aren't much more difficult than Snapchatting. The amount of legislation, outcry, protest, and strife brought about by banning encrypted messaging apps, I have to believe, wouldn't be nearly worth it, and hopefully someone would make that clear to Cameron. It seems too blatant a move against civilian privacy, though freedom is often lost in a lot of small steps instead of one big one. Just have to wait and see!

    • dragonmouth
      January 20, 2015 at 12:12 pm

      "although the UK seems to be following the US in civilian surveillance"
      US is not the one with surveillance cameras at every intersection of every city ostensibly to be "on the lookout for crime." :-)

    • Christian Cawley
      January 26, 2015 at 12:56 pm

      Small towns too. And often the cameras aren't switched on, making them useless for crime detection/prevention. They just pipe images to voyeurs, enjoying their powertrip at the top of the panopticon.

  3. ReadandShare
    January 16, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    UK - never let a crisis go wasted.

    • Christian Cawley
      January 19, 2015 at 1:32 pm

      I think that's generally the philosophy of most western governments, isn't it?

    • dragonmouth
      January 20, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      "I think that’s generally the philosophy of most western governments, isn’t it?"
      That is the modus operandi of ALL governements, not just the western ones. This way it is easier for them to whip up the "us against the world" or "us against them" frenzy, whoever the current THEM may be.

  4. dragonmouth
    January 16, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    "This was just after he marched in Paris in the name of freedom of speech."
    A ban on encryption is not inconsistent with Freedom of Speech. You will still have the right to say anything you please, he'll just have the right to listen in and decipher it. /sarcasm

    "Prime Minister seems to be riding on the coattails of dead Frenchmen in order to get his own way"
    This is the same thing that happened in the US in the wake of 9/11. In a rare display of "patriotism", the Patriot Act was rammed through Congress with barely any dissent.

    FWIW, the concept of "Freedom of Speech" is rather selective in Europe, and has been for decades. By law, it is not allowed to deny the Holocaust. By law, any extreme right opinions are forbidden. Making obscene gestures at others has been declared illegal. Bottom line is that Europeans do have a "Freedom of Speech/Expression." They are free to say or express any opinion,as long as it has been approved and allowed by their government.

    The protests in support of "Freedom of Speech" in France have an taint of hypocrisy. I would not be surprised if the protests were not covertly instigated and fueled by the French Government as a means of fostering support for measures designed to limit the Muslims' Freedom of Speech/Expression. After all, wasn't a a law against Muslim women wearing their traditional attire just narrowly defeated in the French Parliament? Shouldn't Freedom of Speech apply to ANY and ALL groups, not just a select few? Are we to expect something akin to Nuremberg Laws and Kristallnacht to occur in France, with Muslims instead of Jews as the targets? Because the parallels are uncanny.

    • Christian Cawley
      January 19, 2015 at 1:32 pm

      All good points, Dragonmouth, thanks for highlighting them :)

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