Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.
The above quote is attributed to Daniel Webster, a Senator who fought off some of the earliest attacks on American civil liberties by early would-be tyrants. His idea applies today more than ever, as attempted autocrats decry the inability to know every private thought of the citizenry and seek to deprive Americans of the liberties so many have died to defend over the last two centuries.
The cultural efforts against gun legal gun ownership combined with the non-stop aggression toward technologies which protect our business secrets, financial transactions, and private correspondence have seen an increase following the mass murders in Paris at the hands of Islamic extremists.
On yesterday’s Face the Nation, a top Democratic Senator, Diane Feinstein of California, along with a Republican Congressman named Mike McCaul both decried encryption technology as an apparently needless barrier to public safety. McCaul said that the most troubling element of the modern situation is that ISIS is able to freely communicate with agents worldwide, including in the United States.
[W]e know that they’re talking from Raqqa to people in Paris and Belgium but also in the United States. We’ve caught communications where they’ve talked to people in New York and D.C. and, quite frankly, everywhere. The biggest threat today is the idea that terrorists can communicate in dark space, dark platforms, and we can’t see what they’re saying.
For her part, Feinstein addressed the idea that financial transactions and other information would be put at risk if limits to encryption were put in place, saying that legal processes could protect these things. She apparently fails to understand the lawless nature of hacking, in that if it can be done, it will be done. That is to say that if the government is somehow privileged to enter encrypted spaces where they were not previously allowed, then it will be a matter of time before even worse elements find their way in. Feinstein:
I think with a court order, with good justification, all of that can be prevented.
She referred to encrypted communication technology as the “Achilles’ heel” of the Internet. She said that she had held talks with technology companies and asked them to remove information about making undetectable bombs and was met with the insistence that she simply pass a law. Laws pertaining the limitation of information availability would, in a previous version of these United States, be incredibly difficult to pass, no matter the political climate. In the same way that encryption protects the good and the bad, our civil liberties keep America free, for better or worse.
The intentions of these would-be autocrats may be good, after all. They may not realize what they’re actually advocating. This does not make them any more forgivable. The up and coming generation needs to virulently throw out these outmoded thinkers and replace them people who’ve actually got their best interests in mind, who espouse ideals of universal liberty, justice, and global civility.
Featured image from Shutterstock.