Sunday 8 September 2013

GCHQ Cracks SmartPhone Codes, Privacy Outrage or Lifesaver?

The Edward Snowden fallout continues with the steady trickle of classified revelations released by the media.  The latest appears to be confirmation of GCHQ ability to crack or bypassed the encryption on Blackberry and Android smartphones.

This news isn't really that shocking given cracking encryption is a core part of what GCHQ has done for decades. It is also important to understand that nowhere does the released documentation say GCHQ have been breaking into everyone’s smartphones and harvesting our private data on mass, I doubt they’ll have resource and funding in the UK to do that.

My assumption is breaking smartphone encryption is a necessary GCHQ tool for gathering information on specifically targeted bad guys, for example suspected and known terrorists.  Several terrorist plots have been foiled since the 7/7 atrocities, so what if GCHQ's ability to access encrypted smartphone electronic messaging and call information, had played a key part in preventing terrorist plots from succeeding, then it could be argued GCHQ actions are not only in the UK public interested, but may have actually helped saved innocent lives. Further it makes sense that GCHQ wouldn’t want to advertise their capabilities to the general public and to the bad guys. There is an argument that the release of such classified information by the media for their own ultimate purpose of profit (selling papers), is not only immoral, but could be placing lives at risk.

It is easy and desirable to jump on the privacy bad wagon for the purpose of bashing the government of the day, even though most of us give up vast amounts of our personal information to the likes of Facebook and Google.  But we need to consider the full picture of why we want our government to e-spy in the first place.  We can’t have our cake and eat it, either we want to engage our security services in stopping terrorism at our privacy expense, or not. It is worth remembering the likes of GCHQ are usually the first to be blamed when a terrorist plot succeeds for not doing enough, ironically by the media. 

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