Public transparency, private privacy

Apparenty, two Arab states are to ban the Blackberry. Index on Censorship has more detail here

Or rather, some specific features of this useful device – such as its secure communications.

The states in question include one extremely nasty totalitarian sponsor of the Taleban, and one marginally less nasty totalitarian state that lives in the other’s shadow.  They are both oil-rich, but in neither would anyone actually choose to live were it not for the money and the money-making opportunities.

They don’t like the fact that messages sent from a Blackberry are encrypted and sent via servers in Canada, where these two nasty governments are powerless to intercept them. So they could be used to send messages which might be critical of the despots concerned, or even help plan to unseat them (I wish): and the despots would be unable to identify what was said or who had said it, and thus…

But it seems that RIM will, eventually, capitulate. The market in Saudi Arabia and the UAE is too large and too important.

True, liberal transparency is asymmetrical. As a citizen, I should know everything my government is doing on my behalf, and it should know nothing – beyond those things we have as citizens agreed to share with it – about what I am doing. Public means public, open and transparent, and private means as private as anyone wants to be. In a tyranny, it’s the other way round. The government is secret and private lives are open to government scrutiny. These two Gulf tyrannies want to maintain their tyranny, using the excuse of “State Security”. They aren’t the only ones to do so: our very own GCHQ does its damnedest to keep tabs on us – and its own activities secret.

The secure messaging sent via a Blackberry isn’t actually that secure. It’s decrypted and re-encrypted on RIM’s servers, which creates a weak link. As soon as RIM thinks that it is in its interests to break its users’ trust by grassing them up to the Gulf tyrants, it will do so. So long as we put our trust in corporates like RIM, Google and Apple, they will be able to betray it when it suits them; but we don’t need to do it. Android phones can run OpenPGP compatible crypto, providing secure peer-to-peer messaging without the corporate weak link. And you know what? If I were based in the Gulf, I would certainly use it.

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1 comment so far

  1. Quotebag #42 | In defense of anagorism on

    […] “True, liberal transparency is asymmetrical. As a citizen, I should know everything my government is doing on my behalf, and it should know nothing — beyond those things we have as citizens agreed to share with it — about what I am doing. Public means public, open and transparent, and private means as private as anyone wants to be. In a tyranny, it’s the other way round. The government is secret and private lives are open to government scrutiny.”—ejoftheweb […]


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