Plenty of ink and pixels have been, and will continue to be, spilt over the government’s plan to force technology companies to hand over encrypted data without creating backdoors into systems or somehow weakening privacy provisions. Already, we’ve heard that the government could make laws that trump the laws of mathematics and there are plenty of critics as to whether the government’s plans could make things a lot worse for everyone while making bugger all difference to criminals. But is there a solution?
Homomorphic encryption lets you perform calculations on encrypted data. The result derived from the calculation can be decrypted without compromising the integrity of the original data.
A simple way to think about this is if I multiplied two by three I get six. If I multiply an encrypted two by and encrypted three I get an encrypted six.
With homomorphic encryption, I could decrypt my encrypted six to find out the product but not be able to decrypt the multipliers.
As things stand today, using the encryption methods employed by messaging services, banks, government and many of us, it would take some time to shift everything over to a homomorphic system that was proved reliable. One where the government might be able, with a warrant, get access to data that they could decrypt without all other data being potentially compromised.
There are several different fully and partially homomorphic encryption systems around. It may be possible to get one of those to help deliver at least part of what the government is looking for.
I wonder what will happen if the companies mandate that apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and others must make their systems accessible to the government. Will those companies simply pull their apps from Australian app stores? Is the government silly enough to think that will work?
Or is there some other practical solution? I wonder if the PM is now using a messaging system that Australian law enforcement can access?