Remember when UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that he wanted to pass a law that would compel messaging apps to provide a backdoor for security agencies? That would, in effect, ban encrypted software that has no key. President Barack Obama agreed with him.
In response to that proposal, Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of internet law at Harvard University, wrote an open letter to Cameron, explaining why he thinks it’s a “very bad idea.”
It’s one thing to try and regulate WhastApp, says Zittrain, because the government knows where Facebook “lives,” and the Silicon Valley company has assets that could be seized.
But what happens when someone produces the next wildly popular messaging app? What if that someone happens to be, as Zittrain wrote in his letter, “two caffeine-fueled university sophomores?” They would be pretty hard to regulate, or even find, according to him.
“You’re kind of stuck, which means you have to go double or nothing,” says Zittrain. “You now have to try to regulate the entire app ecosystem.”
Even if that were to work, which he doubts, he believes the price is not worth the reward. The way he sees it, it’s similar to a rule that would allow the police to walk into people’s homes without a warrant and look around to make sure everything is fine.
“That might well reduce crime, but it’s just not something that a free society would tolerate,” says Zittrain.
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