2016 Preview: America’s War Against Bitcoin’s BFF – Encryption

Encryption. Many novices in Bitcoin believe this technology is some new, revolutionary invention born out of digital currency, but in fact, encryption has been around for generations. In Western civilization, your government, your banks, and your military have been keeping their dirty secrets for decades with encryption, and the common man has just started to see the benefits of this trickle down to street level.

Your online banking and smartphone use it every day to protect your privacy…..for now. Some powerful people within the U.S. Government would like to see privacy come to an end under the guise of “fighting terrorism”, and 2016 will be the year where this battle will be fought within Western governments, according to Republican Representative Will Hurd of Texas.

Hurd is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform’s technology subcommittee and a former CIA agent. Last week, he spoke about the future of encryption with NextGov about where the government is focusing its energies going forward. Can you have privacy in the West without the threat of terrorists using the tech? Is the tech the problem, or the solution? Are American authorities all about regulating down to the lowest common denominator in society, and dumbing down everyone because of the problems of a few?

encryptionencryption“One of the biggest issues we’re going to be dealing with in 2016 is the issue of encryption, and this is intimately tied to privacy,” said Hurd. “My fundamental belief is that encryption is important for our national security and important for our economy, and we need to do everything we can to strengthen it. We also need to be working with law enforcement so we can help solve challenges.”

The world’s largest law enforcement agencies like the FBI and CIA have made their stances clear that weakening encryption makes their jobs easier. It is rumored that they have “back doors” in all the new computers sold in the U.S., and would like to expand their domain from their to the rest of the digital realm. Maybe American lives should be all about making life easier for the Feds? Considering the recent history of federal agencies abusing privacy and constitutional rights, this is not an optimal solution, and one with virtually no checks and balances, in practice.

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has gone public with the company’s stance on defending user privacy and the encryption practices that meet that end.

“What we do know is that strong encryption is crucial to allow political organizers, government officials, and ordinary people around the world to protect their security, privacy and safety from criminals and terrorists alike,” Electronic Frontier Foundation executive director Cindy Cohn recently told Defense One. “Any ‘back door’ into our communications will inevitably (and perhaps primarily) be used for illegal and repressive purposes rather than lawful ones.”

How would this effect Bitcoin and it’s users? It is doubtful if government forces in the West get their way, which they seem to do quite often, the average Bitcoin user will not be greatly affected. The point of weakness may be the exchanges, which can be subject to greater government intrusion, and user identification tactics. Attacking the Bitcoin Blockchain to either steal Bitcoin or gather information has proven pointless due to its robust security. User contact points, like exchanges, would be the next best source of access. Bitcoin’s protections are strong, but exchanges have always been Bitcoin’s weakest link when it comes to user security.

The Presidential debates have shown most candidates are bullish on terrorism and weak on civil liberties, and are ready to sell out freedom to look tough on crime. Hillary Clinton asked for a “Manhattan Project” to counter encryption, and the privacy it maintains. This is clearly an issue for future 2016 Presidential debates and more discussions within the American government.

Blaming the tech, not the criminal user, is a common regulatory cop-out that could set an awful precedent, and one worth fighting against. Treating everyone as a criminal for using encryption is not just unethical, but un-American.