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2019 Impact Report

Encryption

At the Internet Society, we believe that encryption is an essential part of the trusted Internet.

In recent years, encryption has become more commonplace, with most websites now protected with HTTPS (a security extension to Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP). Millions of users worldwide are using end-to-end encrypted messaging applications, more services have encryption turned on by default, and there’s greater public awareness of encryption as an important security tool.

However, the increasingly secure nature of Internet communications has also prompted renewed calls for law enforcement to gain access to encrypted communications and data. If allowed, such access would jeopardize the security of virtually everyone online. Access to encrypted messages and data can’t just be granted to the “good guys.” A backdoor to encrypted communications is an opening for anyone to exploit, even the “bad guys” — be they criminals or hostile governments. With access, they could eavesdrop on sensitive communications, putting all of us at risk. Simply put, granting access to the good guys only makes is easier for the bad guys to get access, too.

At the Internet Society, we believe that encryption is an essential part of the trusted Internet. It underpins many sensitive activities online, providing security to online transactions to the finance industry and protecting users’ information from cyber criminals and state actors. We advocate for ubiquitous encryption, and oppose government proposals and business models that would weaken encryption or otherwise undermine the security of digital systems.

Why is encryption important?

  • The most basic assurances online in terms of confidentiality, integrity, and authentication are all accomplished using cryptography.
  • It is no exaggeration to say that encryption — in its many forms — is the substance that “glues” together the various online services and products we enjoy.
  • Most of us use encryption every day, though we may not be aware of it.
  • Encrypted messaging applications like Signal and WhatsApp, credit and debit payment services, many videoconferencing systems, and data transfer and storage systems all rely on strong encryption.

The Internet Society had several encryption-related advocacy successes in 2019, all the result of working together with our Chapters, partners, and allies. Working together has enabled the Internet Society – and our partners – to have a greater impact than if we’d worked alone. In particular, several Internet Society Chapters took a leadership role, becoming strong advocates and community leaders for strong encryption. These achievements included:

map with countries highlighted for encryption concerns

United States: The Internet Society engaged in regular communications with policymakers and led a Congressional briefing event. Two Congresspersons, whose staff had participated in the Congressional briefing event, sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General urging the government to stop making requests for access to encrypted communications.

Brazil: The Internet Society advised a civil society advocacy effort that successfully led to the removal of problematic text regarding encryption from a Brazilian anti-crime bill.

United Kingdom: In coordination with its security-focused partners, the Internet Society successfully countered the GCHQ “ghost proposal” for access to end-to-end encrypted messages. Specific advocacy activities included an open letter to the GCHQ that was signed by 47 leading technology and security organizations and experts.

Australia: The Internet Society, local Chapter Internet Australia, and regional partners led an effort to stop a proposed law that would introduce powers requiring Internet service providers to be able to decrypt content. While the law ultimately passed, the advocacy effort led to greater awareness of the danger of weakening encryption in the country.

The Internet Society also supported Facebook’s commitment to deploy end-to-end encryption across its services with partners in an open letter to Facebook and another letter to the United States, United Kingdom, and Australian governments. Through the Internet Society’s financial support, Let’s Encrypt helped more websites encrypt their traffic, from 150 million in January 2019 to more than 180 million one year later.

Encryption at MozFest

To promote the importance of encryption, the Internet Society had a strong presence at Mozfest 2019, a leading event hosted by Mozilla:

  • With more than 2,500 people representing about 50 nations, Mozfest is one of the largest and most influential gatherings of experts and other engaged parties dedicated to creating a healthier Internet.
  • At Mozfest, the Internet Society convened a panel of experts to explore the encryption debate and to shed light on why strong, end-to-end encryption is crucial to trust in the Internet.
  • The Internet Society also brought encryption to light at Mozfest with a two-metre-high interactive display that highlighted how encryption touches everyday life, from a banking transaction to a fitness monitor and more.

Going forward, the Internet Society’s advocacy goals and messaging will evolve. Our intention is to ensure that by 2025 exceptional access proposals will not be considered a viable action for governments. In 2020, this means we will continue to shape encryption discussions and foster our global network to support strong end-to-end encryption.

To keep up to date on the Internet Society’s work on encryption, follow #encryption on Twitter!

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