Amber Rudd insists that she knows best, ignoring all advice from those in the field. In a climate of indefatigable North Korea hacking and Russian election-meddling, we all deserve betterby Hannah Jane Parkinson / August 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
To err is human, but to really screw up requires a computer—ideally with a politician behind it.
Take Amber Rudd, Home Secretary and one of the few adults in the cabinet. Rudd is competent enough, but get her on tech and word-origami happens. I really worry about her. I worry that she is going to embarrass herself in a high-level meeting with GCHQ by asking whether we can physically break encryption by “like, hitting phones with a hammer?”
Encryption is important because it keeps us all safe. There are many arguments against weakening it—the ethical argument of our right to privacy, for instance—but there are also plenty of security angles: if we allow backdoors into encryption, it will make us vulnerable to criminals, thieves, spies, voyeurs. Sabotaging cryptography would be absurd, it’s our best line of defence, and once it’s broken it can’t simply be unbroken. To improve our targeting of the bad guys we should be becoming more efficient with the tools we do have; deciphering, for instance, call records and email time stamps.
It is telling that even GCHQ aren’t pushing for a weakening of encryption. It is telling that every tech expert is against it, as is Edward Snowden, whose 2013 NSA revelations opened all of our eyes. But Rudd, who is prone to tech neologisms such as “necessary hashtags,” a phrase that makes absolutely no sense at all, is still keen. Rudd’s insistence that she knows best, ignoring all advice from those in the field, follows on from many past instances of ministers of all stripes going from IT hubris to IT nemesis. The patient records database and the child support agency overhaul were only two of the higher profile instances under the last Labour government. Much more recently, of course, the NHS became a casualty of a lax attitude towards tech when hospitals were forced to revert to pen and paper after a ransomware hack left thousands of computers locked; the government hadn’t grasped the importance of keeping operating systems up to date.
The NHS snafu is typical of what happens when the people making the decisions don’t understand how tech is all-encompassing. It is the root of how the world now works. The future…