Banning data encryption is “moronic”: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, has launched scathing criticism at governmental plans to ban data encryption, arguing that encryption is both impossible to prevent and a direct result of overreaching digital surveillance.

Speaking at the IP Expo Europe event in London today, he referred to comments made earlier this year by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who asked: “in our country, do we want to allow a means of communication we cannot read? My answer to that question is: ‘No, we must not’.”

“Too late, David,” Wales retorted. “It is not possible in any sense of the word for the UK to ban encryption. More to the point, it’s a moronic thing to do.”

“Human rights don’t go away just because you’re on the internet. We still have rights that governments need to respect.”

Wales said that he was not against any form of governmental access to data, pointing out that it would be reasonable for there to be certain points in to network that were accessible by governments with a court-approved warrant.

“What I’m opposed to is to have zero privacy and scan everyone’s data all the time in case we see something,” he added.

“Human rights don’t go away just because you’re on the internet. We still have rights that governments need to respect.”

However, this hasn’t stopped some governments around the world from using browsing data to arrest civilians, said Wales, citing the example of a Wikipedia editor who made edits to certain pages anonymously but was arrested and tortured for some of the information he had posted.

“It has been routine in recent years, and most cases don’t become famous.”

Image courtesy of Joi Ito. Featured image courtesy of Lane Hartwell / The Wikimedia Foundation

Image courtesy of Joi Ito. Featured image courtesy of Lane Hartwell / The Wikimedia Foundation

Ironically, the extreme attempts by governments to gain data in recent years have led to a greater move to encryption, according to Wales.

“The overreach has actually cost the security services in a legitimate sense,” he said. “Because they’ve been so ridiculous, people are moving to end to end encryption.”

He said this move meant security services were losing the ability to access data legally, giving them less data about genuine threats than they would have had if they had avoided programs such as the one made famous by the Snowden revelations.

The percentage of the internet’s data packets sent using SSL encryption has, according to Wales, increased significantly in recent years, accounting for 29.1% of traffic in April this year, and is set to grow further.

“That will change by 2016 to 64.7%,” he said, pointing out that a large part of this jump would be due to Netflix’s transition to SSL.

“All major traffic is going to be encrypted very, very soon,” he added. “And that’s a very good thing.”

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