I don't think I adequately expressed how fundamentally radical it is that the administration is planning to propose legislation that would force Internet communications companies to build their systems in a way that allows the government to have a backdoor. Part of the problem, I think, is that we still think of privacy on the Internet as being somehow different from physical privacy. As in, I still have privacy if there isn't a camera in my home, but the government can read my e-mails. It should be immediately obvious, though, even in that example, how tapping the Internet is not like tapping a phone line.That's an enormous amount of information for the government to have access to. And even if one "doesn't have anything to hide" from a center-left administration, would the same be true under a far right administration...?
"Telephone conversations are ephemeral, they go away after you're done," explains Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel with the ACLU. "Internet communications leave a record; that record, while it seems just as private as the actual conversation, is protected at a much lower level." What that means is that unlike a phone tap, which tracks future communications from the point at which the eavesdropping begins, under this proposal, past records would be accessible too.
Last night I was thinking about an aside in a piece Julian Sanchez wrote about how we increasingly live our lives, and it's true. For a growing number of people, if the government has access to someone's Internet communications, you have access to just about everything. They know what food you like. They know who you're having sex with. You know who your friends are, and who your enemies are. They know your political views, your literary preferences, your sense of humor. They know how much money you make, what kinds of health problems you have, what neighborhood you live in.
Viewed in this context, forcing Internet communications companies to reverse engineer their systems for breach by the government is like forcing construction companies to build houses that have cameras in every room.
Scary stuff, this.