UK launches new voyeuristic propaganda campaign against encryption

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from how-dare-people-have-walls department

During the weekend, rolling stone reported about a new propaganda campaign the UK government is rolling out to try to turn public opinion against end-to-end encryption (E2EE). This is the last salvo in the UK decades-long war against encryption, which in the past relied on censored statements by the Ministry of the Interior and laws such as the Snooper’s Charter rather than ad campaigns. According to the report, plans for the PR blitz (which is being funded by British taxpayers’ money) include “a striking stunt – placing an adult and child (both actors) in a glass box, the adult staring ‘knowingly’ at the child as the glass turns black.

This stunt, designed by advertising agency M&C Saatchi, is remarkably similar to one of Leopold Bloom’s commercial ideas in James Joyce. Ulysses“…a see-through cart with two smart girls sitting inside writing letters, notebooks, envelopes, blotting paper. I bet it would have caught on. Everyone is dying to see what she writes. … Curiosity.” (U154)

A century ago, Bloom the advertising man cleverly figured out how to make a program by manipulating the curious nature of humans. And now the UK government – perhaps the most nosy humans on the planet – is betting it can do the same.

The evil genius of this piece of propaganda is that it works on two levels. The connection between them rests on the symbolism that, as my colleague at the Stanford Internet Observatory, David Thiel, has observed, an opaque box with people inside is what is otherwise called “a house”. .

On one level, the opaque room represents encrypted messaging. The audience’s inability to see what’s going on inside is meant to elicit sympathy for the child, who, impliedly, is about to be victimized by the adult. This is supposed to turn public opinion against encryption: wouldn’t it be better if someone could see inside?

But focusing on this superficial symbolism ignores what lies just on the surface. On another level, the opaque chamber is not a metaphor at all. It is exactly what it seems to be: an opaque room, that is, a house.

A house.

The public is not supposed to sympathize with the people inside the house, people like them, who can shield themselves from prying eyes. On the contrary, they are supposed to sympathize with the potential observer: the British government. At this level, it is the frustrated voyeurs who are the victims. Their desire to watch what is happening inside has been thwarted by this demonic technology known as “walls”. Wouldn’t it be better if someone could see inside?

Admittedly, the Glass Room is, it seems, an unsubtle allegory intended to gain public support for banning encryption, which allows people to have private spaces in the virtual world. E2EE protects child and adult communications, and by focusing on adult/child interactions, this cascade hides the fact that removing E2EE for children’s conversations necessarily means removing it for adult conversations as well. So on some level it normalizes the idea that adults are not allowed to have private conversations online.

But the campaign’s most insidious message is literally hiding in plain sight. By portraying the transparent room as desirable and the opaque room as a sinister departure from the norm, the government peddles the idea that it is suspect for people to have our own private spaces in the physical world.

The aim of this propaganda campaign is to turn the opinion of the British public against their own privacy, not just in their electronic conversations, but even at home, where the right to privacy is strongest and oldest. .. If the Home Office said this openly, many people would immediately dismiss it as outrageous, and rightly so. But through this campaign, the UK government can get its citizens to come up with this idea for themselves. The hook for this hard-to-swallow notion is the more readily accepted premise that children should have less privacy and be under more surveillance than adults. But if it is adults who harm children, then the conclusion naturally follows: adults had better be watched too. Even inside their own home.

This is not a new idea; it’s a long-held fantasy of the British government, voiced over the centuries by authors from Bentham to Orwell. Heck, the General Warrants were one of the causes of the American Revolution against the British government. But the new twist of hiring an ad agency to sell people their own subjugation, using their own tax money, is simply insulting. Hopefully the Home Office’s anti-privacy ulterior motive will look like this glass box: people will see through it.

Riana Pfefferkorn is a researcher at Stanford Internet Observatory.

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Filed Under: encryption, end-to-end encryption, homes, pr, privacy, propaganda, uk, walls
Companies: m&c saatchi

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