Since so much of life has moved online, a clash has emerged between the opposing values of internet freedom, and internet control. Should the internet be a public arena free of all interference and influence from the authorities? Or does too much freedom result in anarchy, turning the internet into a safe haven for criminals and terrorists?
The tension between these two opposing extremes, the “crypto wars”, is a battle that has been raging for 30 years – an approach that would reconcile these two attitudes would offer a way forward. Long-term privacy advocate and cryptographer David Chaum recently put forward one such idea that involves building a special “backdoor” that could only be accessed on agreement by multiple parties across different countries and cultures – an idea that combines the protections of encryption while meeting the need for transparency that law enforcement wants. But will it work?
Freedom vs control
The internet is built as an open system, with unique IP addresses that identify computers online and logs of connections from one to another. So for supporters of a free internet the big challenge is maintaining anonymity, so that the web can be used and sites visited without leaving behind a digital trace that could identify users.
Anonymising software such as Tor has been developed in response, and hides the link between a browser and the website it visits. But while Tor makes it harder to determine who has been visiting websites,…