Encryption: The only cure for warrantless eavesdropping?

Governments around the world are beginning to recognize how the internet shifts the balance of power away from government toward the citizenry and they are taking the threat very seriously.  Not a week goes by without a news story of government attempts to expand their power to monitor and control the internet.  These power grabs usually take the form of legislation disguised as measures to control child porn, copyright infringement, or terrorism, but they have been less than successful because of the public outrage they sometimes inspire.  So, when it comes to monitoring internet communications, the government has taken to cloaking its operations in secrecy, thereby thwarting any opportunity for anyone to know whether they are being spied on.  If you have no way of finding out whether the government is monitoring your communications, you are powerless to challenge them on it.  And it is exactly that tactic that permits the government to sidestep any Fourth Amendment limitations.  Basically, when it comes to the internet, the requirement for a search warrant is dead.

So, while the government will presumably always have the power to pull the plug on the internet, you can fight back against their monitoring by using encryption.  According to reason.com, encryption schemes have not integrated well into email clients and other communications software…

But Kim Dotcom of MegaUpload fame has stepped in to fill the gap. Facing prosecution for his old cloud storage service, Dotcom has not only battled extradition to the United States from New Zealand, he has started Mega, a new encrypted cloud storage service. And what better to go with your encrypted cloud storage than an encrypted means of discussing what you keep in there? Says Dotcom of his new email service, “we’re going to extend this to secure email which is fully encrypted so that you won’t have to worry that a government or internet service provider will be looking at your email.”

Unfortunately, Kim Dotcom has not been very successful in fighting extradition to the U.S. where he faces charges of piracy, racketeering, copyright infringement, and money laundering.

Nevertheless, better encryption software is being pursued and is already available from some vendors.  The real question is whether those vendors will be able to adequately convince the public that they aren’t in cahoots with the government, providing them a way to decrypt the traffic without ever telling the public.  With the powers the government has acquired since 9/11, it seems very likely that a software company could be compelled to provide backdoor mechanisms for the NSA and be forced to keep it a secret under threat of prosecution.

Such is life in “the land of the free”.