Slate has a fascinating tech article I’ve been meaning to write about for a couple days now about Silent Circle, a mobile developer which claims its latest app can send calls, texts, and files in such a way that they cannot be traced or intercepted, even by law enforcement or the company itself.
Until now, sending encrypted documents has been frustratingly difficult for anyone who isn’t a sophisticated technology user, requiring knowledge of how to use and install various kinds of specialist software. What Silent Circle has done is to remove these hurdles, essentially democratizing encryption. It’s a game-changer that will almost certainly make life easier and safer for journalists, dissidents, diplomats, and companies trying to evade state surveillance or corporate espionage. Governments pushing for more snooping powers, however, will not be pleased.
At $20 a month, the app will add considerably to your cell phone bill, but as groups like Anonymous and LulzSec have proven, avoiding Internet privacy breaches can save individuals and companies a lot of money and headaches.
Silent Circle aims to sell the product to regular, law-abiding consumers, and when faced with the question of criminals hiding illegal activity, they seem to wave off that possibility. CEO Mike Janke, a former Navy SEAL, states, “the advantages are far outweighing the small ‘one percent’ bad-intent user cases.”
Personally, if I were a family member of a 9/11 victim–a far-less-than “one percent” bad-intent use of airplanes–I wouldn’t accept that as an excuse to open up the possibility for undetectable communications in terrorist cells for similar schemes.
However, Janke does make a compelling argument that “when you try to introduce a backdoor into technology, you create a major weakness that can be exploited by foreign governments, hackers, and criminal elements.”
It’s very difficult moral question, both ways, and it looks like with this new technology, the world will have to answer it sooner rather than later.