Sunday, March 13, 2016

How the FBI Polices Dissent and Why It Matters in the Encryption Debate

By Chip Gibbons, Truthout | News Analysis

With the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) attempting to gain access to the San Bernardino shooter's phone, and in the process create a backdoor into encrypted devices across the world - many in the media have framed the issue as being one of privacy versus security. While there is undoubtedly a compelling privacy issue at stake, many advocates have also pointed to another fundamental right at stake - the right of free expression. The Supreme Court has long noted that privacy is fundamental to free expression. More recently, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression released a report concluding that strong encryption was essential to protect free expression.

When tackling encryption from a free expression standpoint, many advocates have rightfully expressed fear that "authoritarian" governments could use backdoors into encrypted devices to go after journalists, human rights defenders and dissidents. Yet, by placing the threat to free expression mainly on foreign bad actors, the FBI is being let off the hook. It isn't just encryption in the hands of other governments that threatens free expression: The FBI should not be trusted either, as it has a long history of policing dissent.

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