Imagine an encrypted world! A workshop at the IGF 2015 Thumbnail
‹ Back
Building Trust 10 November 2015

Imagine an encrypted world! A workshop at the IGF 2015

Nicolas Seidler
By Nicolas SeidlerFormer Senior Policy Advisor

What would a world of pervasive encryption look like?  How would it change the ways in which we use the Internet? How do we get to that world? And how would law enforcement work?

In the aftermath of Snowden disclosures on pervasive surveillance, there has been a growing interest in the role of encryption as a tool that can protect the confidentiality of users’ communications online.

For those among you who are not following closely this issue, let’s take a step back: encryption (from the latin word crypt, meaning hidden place) is a means to protect your data from prying eyes. It is basically a way to encode information between two points so that only authorized parties can see it.

In the current debate, many governments and law enforcement agencies are arguing that they need access to people’s data in order to prevent crimes or to advance investigations. From that point of view, they don’t necessarily see encryption from a very keen eye.

An Internet that cannot offer secure online communications will likely undermine trust in online trade, put activists in challenging countries at risk, and just undermine people’s privacy expectations. At the same time, law enforcement agencies need to do their job and using targeted data can be a means for this objective, within the boundaries of the rule of law and the respect of fundamental rights (which, as reflected in the latest Freedom on the Net report, is not always the case as national security arguments are sometimes used for political censorship).

So how can we reconcile both sides of this equation?

We will try to answer this question during the 2015 Internet Governance Forum this week, in Joao Pessoa, Brazil.

To do that, we are going to project ourselves in a hypothetical future where all Internet communications are encrypted; a world of ubiquitous encryption. After all, engineers are already working towards that end, more companies are enabling encryption, and most civil society organisations are aspiring for it.

So how would we get to this possible future? When could this happen and what would lead to this alternate reality?

What would this encrypted world look like? Would it happen at the level of the Internet architecture and without action needed from users?

And finally, how would law enforcement look like in this scenario? Would they be able to protect citizens, and if yes by what means?

We will have an amazing panel of speakers in Joao Pessoa to try to address these questions:

• Mr. Frank Pace, Sergeant, Digital Forensics Investigative Unit, Strategic Information Bureau, Phoenix Police Department

• Mr. David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

• Mr. Ted Hardie, Executive Director, Internet Architecture Board

• Ms. Carly Nyst, civil society, former Privacy International, international privacy expert

• Mr. Michael Nelson, Internet-related global public policy issues, CloudFlare

• Ms. Sanja Kelly, Project Director, Freedom on the Net report

• Ms. Xianhong Hu, intergovernmental, Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO

Join us, either on site or remotely, on 11 November at 12:00-13:00 BRT (15:00-16:00 UTC), in this forward-looking exercise to find solutions for our present issues.

NOTE: For more information on the Internet Society’s position on encryption and related activites, please see:

UPDATE – 2 December 2015 – Nicolas Seidler published a post about the results of this session: Encryption and law enforcement: aiming for trust.

Photo credit: Yuri Samoilov on Flickr


‹ Back

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

Join the conversation with Internet Society members around the world