The Economist is worried that technology may put limits on how effective the government is at spying on people.
Western spooks say they are losing the technological edge that has enabled them to monitor the communications of potential terrorists. Tech companies are competing in their efforts to provide their customers with unbreachable privacy through sophisticated and sometimes “default” encryption. The heads of both America’s FBI and Britain’s MI5 have complained about their inability to prevent suspects from “going dark”—dropping off the radar screen of surveillance.
Their solution? Make encryption easier to break.
The tech firms must come to terms with the fact that every previous form of communication—from the conversation to the letter to the phone—has been open to some form of eavesdropping: they cannot claim their realm is so distinct and inviolate that it can imperil others’ lives, especially as the number of people who need to be monitored is in the thousands. And it is far better to agree to some form of standard now, rather that wait for an atrocity plotted behind impenetrable walls to be unleashed: if that happens the Dick Cheneys and Donald Rumsfelds of the future will be setting the rules.
Apparently, Economist writers have failed to notice that the Dicks and Donalds are already making these rules. And there are other problems with their argument.