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Net neutrality a key battleground in growing fight over encryption, activists say

Stephen Lawson | July 21, 2014
Plans to favor some Internet packets over others threaten consumers' hard-won right to use encryption, a digital privacy advocate says.

That concept may get more complicated if encryption comes into play, Meinrath said. For example, in some developing countries, Facebook and mobile operators together are offering cheap mobile data deals that only cover Facebook. There are encrypted services that can tunnel through Facebook to give users access to other service, but carriers will want to know if anyone is circumventing the exclusive Facebook deal.

"The problem is that providers are going to say, 'We need to be able to know that you're not doing that, therefore we need to be able to ensure that you are not encrypting,'" he said.

All this doesn't necessarily spell doom for your favorite banking, health insurance or video chat sites. The implications are deeper and longer term, Meinrath said.

"The problem is usually not the big 50 or big 100 services," he said. "They always carve out for themselves an exemption." But if a new competitor comes along that does the same thing better, it may be a different story.

"If you want to create the new Skype, or the new Facebook, or the new Google, you will have a hell of a time getting the same treatment as the incumbents," Meinrath said.

Because of the way network discrimination could affect encrypted services, guaranteeing net neutrality will be critical to ensuring consumers' right to privacy online, the authors wrote. They also call for regulators to keep control of communications in the hands of users and in their own devices at the edge of networks, giving consumers the power to encrypt their communications from end to end.

 

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