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Danger Lampost

Futurist & Technology Consultant,

TEDCRED 20+

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Should private citizens be allowed to set up public servers that allow anyone to securely hide any information from every government?

Those familiar with the TOR network are familiar with this issue, or you may be familiar with this issue if you remember the history of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and our government's attempts to prevent Philip R. Zimmermann from publishing a computer algorithm.

The technology is here, so this debate is not hypothetical. Should I be allowed to set up a network of servers that allows people to upload and share information securely, in such a way that it is technically impossible for any government to ever access the information without the secure passwords of the information owners?

Or should our government *always* be allowed to access any data, hopefully with a search warrant if required?

There are hybrid possibilities (based on Shamir's aglorithm for the technical), that would create digital key escrows, allowing government to view anything but only after retrieving 2 or more keys from an escrow service. At this point, you are only as secure as your escrow service though.

So should such a service be allowed to exist?

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  • Oct 25 2012: Yes, yes, yes.

    Following is a bogus comment/argument and IMHO represents the mind of what I term
    a Manchurian Citizen: one who is extremely brainwashed.

    "The reasons to hide something falls within the illegal, immoral, and unethical range"
    This only pertains to politicians, the military, bankers, stockbrokers, CEO's and others of like ilk.

    Otherwise:

    This is the kind of thing that a mental robot says.
    A mental robot is one who has been rendered Artificially Intelligent and sadly their numbers are growing and spreading throughout the human population.

    They are severely mentally impaired and believe what they are told to believe, think what they are told to think, say what they are told to say and do what they are told to do.
    Conversely, they do not believe what they are told not to believe, they don't think what they are told not to think, they don't say what they are told not to say and they don't do what they are told not to do.

    I've met a few of them. One almost spontaneously combusted right in front of me from the mental pressure of going against the brainwashing he had undergone, that Authority is truth, rather than truth is the authority.

    They are very dangerous people.
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    Oct 24 2012: My first thought was ... why would you want to. I can do the same thing by using a computer that is not connected to the web. Almost every federal site does this and they hide info from each other. Sooner or later they will tell congress and then there is no need for encription any more. As someone else already stated the terrorists do it, corporations do, almost everyone to some extent.

    If Obamacare comes in you will forfet much of this privacy ... if you were not aware become one of the few who read the document .... be way ahead of the idoits who passed it without reading it.

    Should a service be allowed to exist .... who is stopping it. I am not a computet nerd but to get the names of people who subscribe to that site would not be hard. What purpose would it serve to be on the "secrets from the government list". Isn't that calling attention to the very thing you are trying to hide.

    Just a thought ... if I type it on a unsecure computer then could it be retrived if that computer was take into custody?

    Guess I am to old to understand the logic here. If it is a secret why would I ship it anywhere out of my control? I don't get it. The reasons to hide something falls within the illegal, immoral, and unethical range. We nseek transparency from the government while seeking ways to not be transparent in our actions. Don't worry it was only a campaign promise to have the most transparent administration in history ... we can all see how that turned out.

    Anyway good luck .... Bob.
    • Oct 25 2012: Bob, I think you understand this issue very well.

      With maybe one exception:

      "The reasons to hide something falls within the illegal, immoral, and unethical range"

      If possible, I would keep my medical information hidden, especially my genome. Innocent communications with my lawyer must be kept confidential because they could be misconstrued and used against me. Innovations of all kinds must be kept secret from competitors. Etc.
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        Oct 25 2012: Hopefully medical and lawyer files are kept confidential if not change of professionals are in order. However I do not consider these secrets as at least one other person and their staff are aware of your files and their contents.

        As for Innovations, I agree. But why would you send those files anywhere you are not in direct control of. I would put them in my safe. The number of people with access is totally determined by me.

        Barry I am playing Devils advocate here.

        Bob.
  • Oct 24 2012: IMO, the only part of this question that is questionable is the word public.

    People are already doing this privately; it cannot be prevented. Terrorists can encrypt information without using public servers. Computers can still use modems to form direct telephone connections without using the internet.

    Should the government always have access? This question seems unAmerican. Historically, we have held the opinion that the government itself is the primary threat to our freedoms. I still think so. The government is involved with PUBLIC stuff, not PRIVATE stuff. With cameras and microphones everywhere, there is precious little privacy left.
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      Oct 24 2012: I pretty much agree with you, except for the part about my question being unAmerican. I was hoping it was just the opposite! Hopefully you mean that the very idea that the government should always have access is unAmerican? I agree with that!

      With respect to using modems and direct telephone connections, are you implying that telephone connections are more secure than Internet connections? I don't think that's the case.

      Unless terrorists really know what they're doing, it is very difficult to encrypt information in such a way that it is truly secure. A public service that was provably secure would level the playing field.
    • Oct 24 2012: "This question seems unAmerican. Historically, we have held the opinion that the government itself is the primary threat to our freedoms."

      I'm sure that argument carries a lot of weight in other, less paranoid countries...

      The answer to Lampost's question has to be universally applicable, based on reason and logic, not local sentiments. There are plenty of valid reasons why governments shouldn't have the right to monitor everything.
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        Oct 24 2012: Technically, Barry is correct in his statement, John. Our Constitution was formulated to prevent the government from having undue control over it's citizens. It was a totally new concept compared to what the "revolutionists" left England for in the first place.

        What appears to have happened though in the course of our history is that the citizens have lost sight that it needs to be a two-way street if it is going to work. Many of our own citizens think many of their freedoms are unlimited (or should be). The Constitution never granted unlimited freedom to anybody.

        Doesn't matter if the restriction of somebody's freedoms comes from the government or an attempt by another citizen to do it. Unless you want each citizen to be "The Enforcer" for every other citizen, you need government support and their ability to prevent the citizen-to-citizen restrictions to freedoms from happening. And the ability to make sure no "outside the country" entity can destroy the country (which would include the citizens of that country) too.

        Simply stated...somebody has to be "in charge" of any organization tasked with preserving the country in the first place in the areas of security, defense, freedom, etc. The citizens should try to make sure the government isn't the one restricting the freedoms of course. But they can't expect the government to do that across the board if they also insist on tying the hands of the government so much that it can't be done.

        As long as the citizens think the ONLY part of the organization that has corrupt people in it is the government, there is a real problem. The citizens themselves are part of the organization, and there are corrupt ones in its own "group" too. For a variety of different reasons...not just "business".

        I don't believe in giving ANYBODY a "blank check" to do as they please. Government NOR the citizens. Or in the case of the topic question...The Public.
  • Oct 23 2012: "Should private citizens be allowed to set up public servers that allow anyone to securely hide any information from every government?"

    Yes, you do not have to provide self-incriminating evidence, so you are allowed to hide things from your government, of course they are within their right to try to crack your server and/or entice you with a deal when they have a search warrant.
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      Oct 23 2012: I agree with you, but what would you do if the following happened?

      Imagine I set up a public service so that no one, not me nor any government, could decrypt the information uploaded by users to my service. Then imagine we find out, somehow, that some terrorist used my service to plan a nuclear attack on a major city, and that city was destroyed. Millions die.

      Would you support the position that my service should be shut down? Or that the government should be given a back door key?
      • Oct 24 2012: Shut your service down? Yes. Force you to give up the key? No. It just becomes the standard torture discussion. Most countries have outlawed torture. Besides, if there really was a nuke someone would offer you millions of dollars or put a gun to your head anyway and "they" could very well be civilians.

        @below

        Someone has to have the key, otherwise no one can log on. And no, I wouldn't shut down your network unless I had a court order or I really believed many lives were at stake in which case I would take full responsibility for any laws I would be breaking. Laws cannot be written with extreme scenarios such as nuclear strikes in mind, if the sh*t hits the fan either someone risks their own skin to save everyone, or if not even one person in our society can be moved to do that we don't deserve to be saved from that nuclear bomb anyway.
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          Oct 24 2012: Thanks - thinking more about it because of your comment, I suppose the question I'm really more concerned about is whether you would support shutting down the service before such an event happened, given that it's a possibility?

          I think I need to clarify something: The way this would work, not even I, the author of the service, would have a key or any way to get the information. So there's no key I could be forced to give up. So putting a gun to my head wouldn't do any good.

          The key to this question, is that you have to decide whether you would shut down such a service before something like this, which is a possibility, could happen.
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    Oct 23 2012: i would call everyone's attention to a software named TrueCrypt
  • Oct 23 2012: Assumed there is an information you wanna hide and you yourself is the only one who can encrypt it.
    And let us assume i do not want this information to get published. What do i do? Well, yes, i gonna take you out.

    And nobody will ever know why i did this, probably nobody will ever make a connection to me.

    The idea of total decryption makes you much more vulnerable, it does neither protect you, nor your information.
    The best way to protect a secret is that nobody knows you know a secret. If you decrypt something, its likely to happen that you have a secret, you become suspicious.

    If you want to keep your information save, then share it. If there are thousands of people who "know", you will not be able to take them out, and if you tried, it will be noticed.
  • Oct 23 2012: Lead by example I'd say.

    If a government always wants the ability to have access to their citizens data it's only a given we want the same in return.
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    Oct 23 2012: Well, I think that's what the term 'freedom' also implies, doesn't it? For all so called 'democratic' government's, your initial question for this debate then HAS to turn rethorical ..., or not? ;o)