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Danger Lampost

Futurist & Technology Consultant,


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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 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.


        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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