Various national governments around the world have radically different views on email encryption when it comes to their populace. For example, in the United States and United Kingdom, governments are loathe to allow email encryption, holding that the privacy of its citizens’ communications does not take precedent over the government’s need to monitor such communications.
Different Governments, Different Perspectives on Encryption
They maintain that keeping the country secure is more important than individual privacy. The US showed their stance with the passing and eventual continuance of the Patriot Act. UK Prime Minister David Cameron displayed a similar stance when he spoke of outlawing certain social media networks that allowed for a high level of encrypted communications.
But other nations see this issue much differently, and Germany’s government takes the direct opposite approach. What began as a push for more secure communications among and within government agencies has broadened into a wide sweeping initiative to offer end-to-end (in other words, sender-to-recipient) encryption beginning as early as next year.
The Encryption Will Be Supplied Via Plug-in
Currently, a plug-in called PGP (which stands for Pretty Good Privacy) is available in Germany, but this plug-in is quite difficult to use. The German webmail provider United Internet is developing an additional plug-in that is supposed to make PGP much easier to use. The developers are creating the new plug-in in conjunction with the project Mailvelope, and the new plug-in is called Open PGP.
The new plug-in is open source, and the code will be published so that white hat hackers, developers, and security experts can check for themselves to see if there are any backdoors that could allow someone to break the code.
The project has the full support of the German government. Google is working on a similar encryption plug-in for its Gmail service, but this project is still in the alpha stage of development and probably will not be out anytime soon.
Since it is a requirement in Germany to present a photograph identification in order to set up an online banking account, the current plans are to use the users’ online banking account to set up the encryption.
Stories of Government Spying Makes Encryption More Vital for National Security
Germany has become more serious about encrypting their government emails since the Edward Snowden story of the US spying on other world governments (in addition to its own citizens) broke in 2013. The new project would not allow anyone outside the sender and recipient of an email to read the communications contained therein.
Most IT help desk managers would love the ability to secure their internal correspondence with end-to-end encryption. Legislators in both the UK and the US have been slow to respond to widespread data breaches, because closing some of those gaps would mean taking away the governments’ abilities to detect potential terrorist activities and criminal plots. Does the public wellbeing trump personal privacy? Each nation will have to decide that for themselves.