Full privacy and girls for sale: the encryption dilemma

A girl for sale: “Virgin, beautiful, 12 years old …. Her price has reached $12,500 and she will be sold soon.”

That was an advertisement in Arabic on the Telegram App. Apparently, it was shared by an activist minority of the Yazidi community. Should we stop encrypting messaging applications?

When I read this headline for the first time, I was really shocked. It’s really hard to hear that there are databases of 3,000 women that have owners. These women are treated as captives that can be sold for sex as slaves. I don’t have any detailed information about these people and what they have been through; but what I can say is that these things in the 21st century are absolutely unacceptable, sad, and disgusting.

Shame on humanity! But these problems have been around for centuries. What’s new here?

The “fusion of barbaric practices and modern technologies

Did you know that Messaging applications like Telegram and WhatsApp are reliable places for groups like ISIS to buy/sell weapons, tactical gears and, of course, young girls?

Shutting them down!
First thing crossing our mind is that we should somehow shut these messaging applications down. Well, that’s clearly not a viable solution because these apps have changed the way we used to communicate with each other comparing to traditional mobile phones.

Lowering security!
The second thought might be lowering security. This means lowering the quality of security constraints, features, countermeasures, … in order to enable intelligence agencies to intercept communications or access mobile phones, perhaps remotely.

The other aspects of security are about cryptography or the hyped terminology “End-to-End encryption”.
One of the key reasons that enable ISIS to perform their barbaric practices regarding sex slavery is End-to-End encryption.

What should we do?

No wonder what Lamiya Aji Bashar and others have been through are catastrophic incidents violating the human right, but compromising a software application (especially Messaging apps) by lowering the security is a real double-edged sword. On the one hand, we may gain access to ISIS conversations and get some tactical information about their activities; on the other hand, we endanger the privacy of the entire world.

That’s a tradeoff between people privacy and fighting against terrorism. Would it make sense to jeopardize military strategies by hardening messaging applications? Would it be right to put people privacy at risk? Would governments be willing to employ people information in a proper, ethical way? Internet is a worldwide scale network, meaning that communications could be intercepted by any government. hmmm, perhaps terrorists themselves?! Ok, that’s not feasible!

Let’s assume that it was supposed to be intercepted by just one (or few) government(s). Would it be the United States? European Union? Russia? Iran? China? Gulf countries? Or even North Korea? How to reach a consensus on a global scale? What would happen? I am sure we would end up having lots of local messaging applications for different regions.

Was it the idea behind Internet? I am afraid not. Internet is there to make people all around the world connected to each other; to share ideas; to …

“We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brains” (Stephen Hawking)

“The Internet could be a very positive step towards education, organisation and participation in a meaningful way” (Noam Chomsky)

Well, we all know that the Internet phenomenon is out of control; it’s everywhere, from our mobile phones to our TV’s in our living rooms. The first bit of education and democracy is having a conversation with our own kind. Keeping people apart from each other destroys the unity of future generations.

Internet screams for safety and security!

Internet in general, and Messaging/Email applications in particular needs to be private, safe and secure. Let’s say brownfield applications are those that are designed and developed in the pre-Snowden era, and greenfield applications are those architected in the post-Snowden era with extra privacy attention. Recent movements towards this end are based on:

We need a safer Internet for ourselves, our kids, and all future generations.

As part of Seeld‘s core developers’ team, these are the kind of ethical dilemmas we face every day. We hope we can (along with others!) improve the privacy of our daily life communications and of course raise awareness of such issues.

Lamiya Aji Bashar suffered slavery in the 21st century, which is a shame!; but I do believe putting the privacy of 7 billion people at risk is way more disastrous and I am sure there are other ways to stop all sorts of terrorism.

Read the full story about Lamiya at The Associated Press.

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