In the digital age, privacy is scarce. The vast majority of the population publishes their entire lives for public consumption these days, including their young children. That’s on the voluntary side of digital publication.
But what most of us also do is use the Internet to contact friends and loved ones, to talk about every issue we face: relationship troubles, work troubles, financial insecurity, and more. People use chat services and email to communicate every sensitive information you can think of, including bank account information, government I.D. numbers, home addresses, and birthdays.
A determined hacker could paint any picture of your private life they want. The state probably already has.
In 2018, New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly approved of a ballot measure to add an amendment to the state constitution that states “An individual’s right to live free from governmental intrusion in private or personal information is natural, essential, and inherent.” Other state and national governments have been forced by voters to do the same, but yet still governments attempt to restrict encryption. There is likely no way we can go back to doing everything on paper; the infrastructure is just no longer there for more than 300 million Americans to print and mail their paperwork, and that’s to say nothing of other nations.
The only way to ensure everyone is safe from intrusion is to enshrine encryption as a basic human right in the constitution of any government that exists. Not everyone will choose to encrypt, and that’s okay. It’s a matter of having the option. People are free in New Hampshire to willingly share their private information with anyone, just as people are free in New Hampshire to drive without a seatbelt. I choose not to share, and not to drive without a seatbelt. But nobody would argue that the use of a seatbelt should be restricted by the government, so why should encryption?
Encrypting all our data would allow us to transition away from “office paper” products entirely. Many banks, other companies, and government agencies are moving towards allowing people to do anything on a digital basis. But, as everything moves digital, so too does your paper trail. Crafty prosecutors already use credit card transaction histories and call logs to paint a picture implicating guilt of where innocent people were and what they were doing when crimes were committed. Imagine, though, you were accused of a crime and you took a photo near there very recently. You left your phone unencrypted, so the police can easily access it and determine that you were at the scene of a crime.
Not to mention, incumbent politicians can easily stifle free and fair elections by leveraging the power of the state to access unencrypted messages and photos to leak and showcase challengers’ personal lives.
The Unites States and other nations should pass constitutional amendments enshrining the right to digital privacy, and pass statutes to the same effect in the meantime.