The battle against illegal actions on the Internet gets increasingly important in countries all over the world. When it comes to online culture, it often seems difficult to formulate laws and regulations that would keep file sharing and data access under control. The fact that we live in a digital age where we daily generate huge amounts of data makes it more complicated to regulate all the data stored and shared online.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) is an official Act in Britain made to fight crimes related to electronic communications and online frauds. This Act gives government officials power to obtain someone’s personal information for the reasons of national security or public safety. Even if the data are encrypted citizens are forced to hand in their encryption keys if requested by a government official. Refusing to fulfill this order for whatever reason may result in severe punishments.
Security through Obscurity
The rise of the Internet brought many advantages to our society, but modern users also face various risks. Our virtual lives are under a constant threat from someone breaking into our computers or account, so it is essential that all our sensitive data is properly secured. Encryption is a great way of preventing third parties from accessing your data illegally, but the most effective protection would be to hide the fact that such data even exist.
One of the advanced systems for encrypting and concealing data is steganography. In its original form, steganography refers to making hidden messages in such a way that only a sender and a recipient have access to them. When it comes to digital data, steganography is a common method of data protection and it includes concealing data within encrypted or random files. Modern steganography exists from 1985 and now there exist over 1,100 digital steganography programs.
Steganography allows you to conceal important data within other files on your devices in such a way that they don’t attract attention to themselves. Basically you can code a message within an MP3 song or a photo and no one ever needs to know that there is something more important beneath the surface. Stenography occupies certain bits of audio or image files, so they can be opened regularly without anything to point out that they contain a secret message.
The Catch 22
The problem with steganography is that the method at some point collides with the rules of RIPA (or vice versa). In practice it would be difficult to actually determine whether someone was using the method or not and whether there are any encrypted data at all. Still, if a government official requests an encryption key you are obliged to provide it or prove that you have no concealed data at all. If you happen to be completely innocent about it then you carry a burden of proof – how to prove that the data doesn’t exist if they would be invisible anyways?
Certainly, this is an extremely hypothetical situation and it is not quite likely to happen. However, the law is such that it leaves much space for abuses. While it doesn’t have much power over those that are actually guilty, it does have a great potential for creating quite complicated situations. Therefore it is important to set criteria properly and form regulations in such a way that they don’t harm anybody. This sounds easier said than done, but if the law doesn’t follow changes in technology then too many citizens can be endangered.