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The Week in Internet News: Snowden Warns of Anti-Encryption Efforts

This week in Internet news, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden has warned about renewed efforts to undermine encryption. In a virtual speech at the annual Rights on conference, Snowden highlighted how governments and law enforcement agencies are once again pushing for backdoor access to encrypted communications.

Encryption is the process of converting data into a code that can only be deciphered by authorized parties with a key. It is widely used to protect sensitive information such as financial transactions, medical records, and personal communications from unauthorized access. However, some government agencies argue that encryption can be used to conceal criminal activity and terrorism and that they need access to encrypted communications in order to investigate and prevent such activities.

Snowden, who has been living in exile in Russia since leaking classified NSA documents in 2013, warned that the current push for anti-encryption measures is reminiscent of the "Crypto Wars" of the 1990s when the U.S. government tried to restrict the use of strong encryption technologies. Snowden said that "the same old arguments are being used again," and that there is a danger that governments will use the pretext of fighting terrorism and crime to erode privacy and civil liberties.

Snowden's warnings come as several countries are considering or have already implemented measures to weaken or bypass encryption. In Australia, the government passed the Assistance and Access Act in 2018, which gives law enforcement agencies the power to compel tech companies to provide access to encrypted communications. The law has been criticized by privacy advocates and tech companies, who say that it undermines the security of all encrypted communications and sets a dangerous precedent for other countries.

In the United States, the debate over encryption has been ongoing for years. The FBI famously clashed with Apple in 2016 over access to the iPhone of a mass shooter in San Bernardino, California. The FBI wanted Apple to create a backdoor to the phone's encryption, but Apple refused, arguing that it would weaken the security of all iPhones and set a dangerous precedent. The FBI eventually found a way to access the phone without Apple's help.

More recently, the Department of Justice has been pressuring tech companies to create backdoors or other ways for law enforcement to access encrypted communications. In a speech in March, Attorney General William Barr called on tech companies to "step up" and provide access to encrypted data, saying that "we cannot afford to hamstring our officers and agents as they seek to dismantle criminal networks."

Snowden's warnings are a reminder of the importance of strong encryption in protecting privacy and civil liberties. While some may argue that encryption can be used for nefarious purposes, it is ultimately a tool that can be used for good or ill. Governments should not be allowed to undermine encryption without a compelling reason, and any measures to weaken encryption should be subject to rigorous public debate and oversight.

As more and more of our lives move online, encryption will only become more important. We use encryption to protect our financial information, our medical records, and our personal communications. If governments are allowed to weaken encryption, we risk exposing ourselves to hackers, cyber criminals, and other malicious actors. Snowden's warnings should be taken seriously, and we should all be vigilant in defending our right to privacy and security online.

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