This piece originally appeared in Maclean's on October 18, 2019.
Imagine you wake up one morning and discover that the federal government is requiring everyone to keep their back doors unlocked. First responders need access your house in an emergency, they say, and locked doors are a significant barrier to urgent care. For the good of the nation, public health concerns outweigh the risk to your privacy and security.
Every day millions of online transactions are protected by a technology called encryption. Encryption is a form of security just like the lock on your house. It prevents outsiders from snooping in on your information and content as it passes over the web. It secures everything from banking information to military communications to online dating apps. It also protects critical infrastructure like hydroelectric dams and the internet.
Right now, there is an ongoing debate over so-called “encryption backdoors,” special access points that governments can force or compel tech companies to build. Essentially, these are unlocked doors on the web that allow authorities to access encrypted communications without users’ consent.