[Video] Why you should use end-to-end encryption whenever you can
2022 February 5
Explaining end-to-end encryption and why you should use it, even for non-sensitive conversations.
All original content in this video is dedicated to the public domain. Third-party resources included in this video are not necessarily public domain, but they fall into one of two categories:
- They are public domain or licensed under a license which permits commercial use without attribution.
- They are copyrighted works which I have not licensed but which I believe I am using in accordance with fair use.
- P. Zimmermann. Why I Wrote PGP. https://www.philzimmermann.com/EN/essays/WhyIWrotePGP.html, 1999.
First, what is end-to-end encryption? When you use the internet, your computer talks to other computers. But when you send a message to a friend, you usually don't send it directly to your friend's computer; you send it to another third-party computer, called a "server", instead. The server is always online to receive messages, and it stores your message for your friend so they can download it when they're available. This enables you to send messages for your friend, even when they're offline. This is a useful service, but it also means that the server has access to your message, and the server may not be run by trustworthy people who respect your privacy.
In most cases, the messages we send to these servers are unencrypted, meaning the server can read them, just as, if you send a postcard in the mail, the postal service can read it. End-to-end encryption is like an envelope you put around your letter to hide its contents from the postal service, or the server in this case. First, you encrypt your message, making it unreadable to anyone but your friend. Then, you send it to the server, which provides its service of making it available to your friend but cannot itself read the message because it's encrypted. When your friend receives the encrypted message, they (and they alone) can decrypt it and read its contents. (You and your friends are the "ends" in end-to-end encryption. Messages are encrypted from you on one end to your friend on the other end, and no one in-between can decrypt them.)
Now, why should you do this? I have two main reasons for you:
- You deserve privacy.
- Other people deserve privacy.
You might be a journalist, a whistleblower, or a political dissident for whom non-private communication is unsafe. You also might be an average Alice who just wants to have a private conversation with her friend Bob. Regardless of who you are, regardless of your needs, you deserve privacy.
You should care about your own privacy, but even if you don't, you should care about others' right to privacy. By using end-to-end encryption yourself, you enable your friends (for whom privacy may be more important or even necessary) to have private conversations with you.
On a broader scale, by using end-to-end encryption, you normalize the practice. Imagine a world where everyone sends postcards in the mail. How hard would it be for the government to ban the use of envelopes for privacy? How much public backlash would it get in a world where no one used envelopes anyway? And think how easy it would be in such a world to target journalists, whistleblowers, and political dissidents when they're the only ones who do use envelopes. By using "envelopes" or, end-to-end encryption, you're doing your part to help create a world that's safer for those who need privacy. As Phil Zimmermann, the creator of the email encryption tool PGP, put it, "Think of it as a form of solidarity."