Home / Technology / Washington Post is the first major paper to begin encrypting traffic

Washington Post is the first major paper to begin encrypting traffic

Quantum Encryption


Share This article

The Washington Post has announced that all traffic from certain sections of its website are now being encrypted — and more sections are soon to follow. It’s a bold move for the old time newspaper, which is owned by Amazon’s celebrity CEO Jeff Bezos, and it speaks to the true depth of modern surveillance techniques. This move is explicitly designed to confound government surveillance of Post readers’ interests, reading habits, and their political views. This is precisely what Edward Snowden has been calling on internet-based companies to do for years now.

You can see the nefarious impact of surveillance reflected in the specific areas that the Post deemed to be in need of extra protection in this first round of encryption: for now, it’s limited to the newspaper’s front page, its national security sub-page, and its blog dedicated to technology policy. Whether or not NSA is actually targeting readers for their interest in the Post‘s technology policy coverage, specifically, is almost beside the point — the fact is that the NSA has created the perception that basic intellectual curiosity is a dangerous thing. That perception will have wide-ranging negative impacts, a fact we saw played out quite clearly during the most paranoid years of Cold War anti-communist purges. And the insights gained in that era were miniscule next to the wide-ranging personal information available today, via the internet.

The most important thing about the Washington Post adding encryption is that it's the Washington Post, a major, long-standing pillar of American journalism.

The most important thing about the Washington Post adding encryption is that it’s the Washington Post, a major, long-standing pillar of American journalism.

The upshot of this change is that anyone monitoring the Washington Post‘s traffic will only be able to see that a particular reader has read the Washington Post in general, not which specific encrypted pages they’ve visited within that domain. For a wide-ranging newspaper, simple reader-identification is next to useless without specifics about what they were reading. Was it the national security page, or the restaurant reviews? The report on the activities of the Federal Reserve, or the long form feature on Bronies?

The HTTPS Everywhere initiative would see encryption rolled out as a standard for all internet activities.

The HTTPS Everywhere initiative would see encryption rolled out as a standard for all internet activities.

This is why it’s important that the Washington Post made this move, rather than some radical pro-tech website (ahem); FirstLook’s The Intercept uses encryption by default, but if you’re reading any portion of the The Intercept, your presumption of innocence is essentially forfeit in the opinion of the Five Eyes anyway. This sort of encryption initiative can only really have an impact when put into practice by specifically those large, general publications that are not completely security-oriented already. For now, the Post‘s frontpage encryption serves this purpose, washing out encrypted traffic from the two of-interest pages with encrypted traffic from the largely meaningless frontpage. Once they roll this out to the rest of the site, the uselessness of tracking their users will be complete.

In the West, these concerns are mostly to do with heading off unwarranted surveillance and abuse of privileged information, but in other parts of the world it’s even more badly needed. If a government in the midst of a popular uprising wants to censor certain pieces of information from an unencrypted website, such a-la-carte censorship is relatively easy to do. What encryption does in such a case is leave censors and rogue governments with no option for controlling the conversation but to shut down entire publications. That’s a much messier and more public move to make, and raises the barrier to casual electronic censorship.

This announcement is a direct response to programs aimed at sifting through internet users based on their reading habits; security agencies in the Five Eyes alliance (which can be spoken of as a single entity in many contexts) have been shown to have targeted people for the transgression of reading Wikileaks, or even social media like LinkedIn. It’s an indication that the people who produce much of the hardest-hitting news and commentary are uncomfortable with the role they tacitly play in helping to identify people interested in the hardest-hitting news and commentary.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has pointedly called for an end to strong encryption within the country. Whether this means Britain would enact laws effectively banning the reading of outside sites that deploy it is unknown.

This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.

ExtremeTech

About

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

seventeen − 14 =

Read previous post:
Aly Raisman strips down for ESPN's 'Body Issue'

Mark Seliger/for ESPN The Magazine Olympic Gymnast Aly Raisman appears in ESPN's Body Issue 2015. Americans saw a lot of...

Close