Since the dawn of the internet, forward thinking technologists and futurists have strongly advocated for digital privacy, positioning encryption as a fundamental human right. In the 90s, the cypherpunk movement argued that we could not expect governments, corporations, or other organizations to grant us privacy because it is to their advantage to speak of us.
Over the last few decades, we have experienced an escalating debate between governments and technologists over the potential polarity between privacy and security. Gone are the days where the world was black and white, where heroes like Alan Turing saved the day by deciphering the secrets of the most despicable villains. Back then, the line between good and evil was as well defined as the border between Mordor and the rest of Middle-earth.
Snowden’s leaks and the rise of extreme right fundamentalism in Western nations challenged claims of an adversarial relationship between privacy and security. There is nothing secure about Trump, Farage or Hanson having access to personal data. The all seeing eye is looking a lot like the eye of Sauron.
These days, the fight for online privacy is increasingly lost on corporate battlefields. Yesterday’s freedom fighting geeks have grown up to build today’s global tech monopolies—the public companies that maximise shareholder value at the expense of consumers' online privacy. Government regulators, now acting as protectors of privacy, are unable to keep up with the speed of technical innovation. The cloud, the internet of things, mobility, artificial intelligence, robotics and drones, virtual reality, and biotech are just a few tectonic shifts to human lives and behaviours that we are experiencing today.
Governments and corporations continue to ramp up the personal data ‘gold rush’, storing our information in unsafe systems vulnerable to hacking and fraud. To date, they have struggled to make sense of it all. Overwhelmed by too much data they fail to spot the signal through the deafening noise. And yet, Machine Learning will quickly overcome any analytics challenges.
As encryption becomes stronger and more complex, so too does the computational power available to crack it. Quantum computing may become the “next” Bombe machine used to decipher the war messages from a future Enigma-like gadget. And yet, encryption is undoubtedly the most important defence for digital security and privacy.
It’s not all doom and gloom, the marriage between cryptography and smart contracts is leading to the rise of digital democracy 2.0. Until recently, most cipher tools focused on point to point communication between two parties such as encrypted messaging. The emergence of smart contracts is shifting this paradigm, effectively enabling the encryption of group interactions and decisions. This critical technological advancement will yield significant benefits to digital democracy, enabling governance structures to remain private and secure while also open and transparent.
Read the next post in this series: The Internet of Value – Blockchain Part 3