Tuesday, 3 March 2015

CitizenFour and Privacy

Channel 4 screened the documentary Citizenfour in recent days. It would be over-simplistic to describe it as the Edward Snowden documentary although to a certain extent it is. Basically the documentary takes place mostly in Snowden's bedroom in a hotel in Hong Kong as you see the story of him revealing the NSA / GCHQ spying programme bit by bit. Underlying it all is how the keyword 'terrorism' has become an excuse for making us all suspects. I am always particularly disturbed by the well-worn statement that 'if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear'. This is of course simply ridiculous because I am sure the people who think that would not like government CCTV in their homes monitoring them 24/7 if they have 'nothing to hide'.

However the rather interesting bit, away from the threats governments pose to civil liberty, is the use of encryption to send messages between Snowden and the journalists. Every so often you would see a bust of data onscreen. I have long been in favour of all email being encrypted and the use of encryption being considered 'normal'. Some months ago I created a public key so that people can send me encrypted email. I publish the key at onename.com – my address is; https://onename.com/ponsaelius

Onename acts as both a place to publish your public key and a place to assert a digital identity by using some of your social networks as digital proof of your id and, in this case, a place to put your Bitcoin address. The idea is simple, if you want to send me encrypted files or email, just my public key as the encryption key. When I receive the data only my private key, kept secret by me, can decrypt the information.

Everyone can create a private/public key pair. Download a copy of the Gnu Privacy Guard from here; https://www.gnupg.org/

Versions for Linux, Windows and Mac exist. All you do is run the program and create a key pair. Publish you public key to anyone who wants it or use Onename. To encrypt a message just get someone's public key and encode your text or document with the software.

What about terrorism I hear the scream. The security services won't be able to read your email. If they really suspect me of doing something they can use the good old fashioned method – convince a judge to issue a warrant for a private key. Just the same as getting access to any other private property.