As the Research In Motion bigwigs rolled out their shiny new PlayBook yesterday, they made damn sure everyone knew that it incorporated one of the Blackberry’s key selling features for business people (or run-of-the-mill paranoiacs): encryption. It’s a wonderful feature, but one that’s been under attack of late, in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, India… but America?
Remember all that talk after Obama was elected about how he might have to give up his beloved Blackberry to ensure America’s state secrets weren’t hacked by some foreign agent? Remember how he assured the world that he had faith in RIM’s encryption, so the Secret Service was going to have to pry the Berry from his cold dead hands? So how ironic is it that the Administration is now looking to pry your secrets from your cold, encrypted Blackberry messages, your Skype calls and your internet chats. (Serves you right — who was stopping you from running for President?)
Yes, thanks to that epic anti-privacy juggernaut known as the War on Terror, Obama is expected to send (after the mid-term elections, natch) legislation to Congress that would require communications providers (inside and outside the US) to create and store readable copies of all encrypted messages. Investigators would still need a court order to access these copies, but providers are understandably concerned over creating ‘back doors’ through which the government (or someone with equal technical prowess but a lot less scruples) could mosey in unannounced.
Meanwhile, a bill already in the Senate, S. 3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), holds the promise/threat of creating blacklists of sites “dedicated to infringing activity.” What constitutes ‘infringing’ is defined broadly enough to include any site in which proprietary material is “central to the [site’s] activity”. However it’s defined, if your site was put on a blacklist, internet service providers would be under serious pressure to block access to your site (you know, like they do in China and Iran).
While the COICA is purportedly aimed at protecting rights holders of music/movies/etc., it’s not hard to see how wily patent troll lawyers could use this bill as another stick with which to threaten sites with imminent shutdown. Knowing the US government’s traditional antipathy towards online gambling sites, and these patent trollers’ cries of “I’m telling Mom” take on a chilling reality.