They’re still trying to ban cryptography

The sales office to data localization pipeline for mass surveillance.

Cory Doctorow
18 min readMar 5


An image of a crocodile with a wide open mouth; the Signal logo is in the mouth; in the background is the Union flag of the UK.
John/CC BY-SA 2.0 (modified)

Some bad ideas never die. Since the late 1980s, spy agencies and cops have argued that the public should not have access to working cryptography, because this would mean that terrorists, mafiosi, drug dealers and pedophiles will be able to communicate in perfect, unbreakable secrecy.

The problem is that working cryptography protects everyone, not just the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse: the same cryptographic tools that protect instant messages and “Darknet” sites also protect your communications with your bank, your Zoom therapy session, and the over-the-air updates for your pacemaker and your car’s anti-lock braking system.

Deliberately introducing defects into cryptographic tools — “back doors” for cops and spies — is a deadly proposition, carrying enormous risks. It’s hard enough to continually secure cryptographic systems without also having to preserve a “secret” backdoor that causes them to catastrophically fail when the right people need them to.

In a digital world, cryptography is all that stand between you (your cameras, thermostat, car, work email, family photos and records, etc) and everyone who might attack you (ransomware creeps, stalkers, identity thieves, corporate spies, crooked cops, foreign governments, etc).

And yet.

Governments around the world continue to periodically insist that working cryptography be outlawed and replaced with defective tools with deliberately introduced defects. All the way back in the early 1990s, the Clinton administration tried — and failed — to do this. Not long after, the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a landmark lawsuit that effectively ended any US attempts to ban cryptography.

But while the idea of crypto bans are mostly dead in the USA, they’re alive and well in the UK. While New Labour toyed with these ideas in the early 2000s, the idea really took root under the Conservatives, first with David Cameron’s coalition government, and then with the rapid succession of Tory PMs-for-a-day, each of whom has reliably demanded crypto backdoors, provided their political careers survived long enough to get around to it.



Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog:; Mailing list:; Mastodon: