#CyberFLASH: Encryption actually protects law-abiding Canadians

malware-hacking-cybersecurityWhen it comes to policing and national security, far too often Canadians are asked to let fear trump their rights.

Recently, the front page of the Toronto Star featured the headline, “Encryption creating a barrier for police …,” potentially convincing some readers that the technology’s only purpose is to aid criminals. Rarely do we see headlines such as, “Encryption protects thousands of Canadians’ credit card information,” or “Encryption enables secure communications for every Canadian.” or even the aspirational, “Canada leads the way in cybersecurity for its citizens.”

Increasingly, when we hear about encryption in the media, or from public safety officials, it’s presented as a danger — something that prevents those whose job it is to keep us safe from fulfilling their role. However, in the vast majority of transactions online by ordinary, law-abiding citizens, encryption is a good thing that makes personal, sensitive data harder to capture and decipher. Indeed, if more data were stored in encrypted form, sensational breaches of privacy — like the one that drove some Ashley Madison users to suicide — could be avoided.

Acknowledging that encryption can be a good thing for society doesn’t erase police concerns about data access; it contextualizes them. We at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) have long been supporters of warrants, the process by which police can go before a judge to demonstrate that their need to intercept a suspect’s private communications is reasonable and proportionate.

While we understand that warrants aren’t helpful if data can’t be decrypted, reports indicate police now have the tools, and are working with technology companies, to gain access to even the most complex of encrypted data. For example, as we learned from the Project Clemenza investigation, police can now decrypt BlackBerry communications and are making extensive use of Stingray technology, which allows for the mass interception of cellphone data.

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