So, the United States government and the government of the United Kingdom both think that it's right to weaken encryption schemes and to require internet companies to support governments' endeavours to decrypt private messages.

Don't worry, they say, we're the good guys and we'll use this ability responsibly.

For me, the most elegant argument against this notion is that if the American and British governments can force internet companies to comply with these schemes, so too can the governments of Germany, France, Hungary, South Africa, Italy, Sri Lanka, Egypt, China and Russia1. The ethic of complying with local laws (as trumpeted by all the global operators) has a cuts-both-ways property to it that is often missed by the dolts running the US and the UK.

But there's another problem with the proposals that I can't see being easily addressed by governments. It is that the development of encryption technologies is not a capability exclusive to governments. What is to stop a group of independent researchers from developing an encryption technology that seeks to exclude all governments? This is not a silly speculation. PGP was developed without knowledge or assistance from any government, and in fact was initially intended for use as protection against government spying. Once such a thing exists (assuming that all the current encryption technologies have become no-longer effective!!), all a user will need to do is to encrypt their messages using this technology prior to committing them to a spy-enabling internet.

Oh! you say. But the development or use of these technologies would be criminalised, you say. This is true, but given the border-less nature of the internet, it would have to be criminalised in every single country in the world to make a criminal of all potential developers and users. It's also the case that once a technology has been developed, it can't be undeveloped, and given that we're talking about information technology, restricting its movement would be seen, for example, as a restriction on speech. Not a problem for the likes of Ireland, France, Russia and other countries that struggle with the notion of free expression, but a big problem for the United States, whose Supreme Court upholds Free Speech vigourously.

As a policy initiative, I see this dying a slow, agonising death as more and more politicians are clued in to its political and technical infeasibility. However, there's a long way to go, and while it's still on the table, the notion that governments are supreme over the people (i.e. the reverse of the definition of a republic) will continue to grow among the gullible and the ignorant.

Footnotes:

1
Countries listed in order of Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2014, from least to most corrupt.