Silicon Valley's privacy efforts must be working, because our governments are freaking out

Just because tech firms want to restore the balance of overly-intrusive surveillance doesn't mean they're automatically letting the terrorists win.

(Image: Paul Sakuma/AP Images)

If you've ever wondered what a government has left in its last breath of an argument it's already lost, it's almost certainly going to have something to do with "national security."

Authorities on both sides of the Atlantic are freaking out because they'll no longer as easily be able to grab your data -- with or without a warrant. In the past week, US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned that encryption made it almost impossible to find criminals and terrorists. That was hot on the heels of one Manhattan district attorney saying iPhones will become the "device of choice" for terrorists. And if that wasn't enough, the UK's leading counter-terrorism official said tech companies are creating systems that are "friendly to terrorists."

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Google's response? Its executive chairman Eric Schmidt said at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday the responses were "proof" that its efforts to lock out the government are working.

Thrown under the bus by wrongful claims that it was in cahoots with the US government by serving up its customers' data fresh to the National Security Agency when asked, Google decided to fight back. (Many have argued that the companies should've invested in stronger security long before the Edward Snowden revelations came to light.)

For the past half-year, Silicon Valley technology giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and others have doubled-down on datacenter connection security, and implementing end-to-end email encryption. Perhaps the greatest step forward was Apple encrypting its devices in such a way the government could no longer ask it for data. Google currently has this option added to its own Nexus-branded devices -- for now.

Companies are required to follow the letter of the law -- Schmidt himself noted at the event that they should. That means they have to hand over data when they are forced to. But the drive to "encrypt all the things" means they can't hand over anything because the users themselves have the decryption keys.

But until a change in the law allows a "backdoor" (or even a "front door"), we have few on the side of putting privacy first. These tech companies have little option but to batten down the hatches and lock the government out, until such a time when they are forced to drop encryption -- making everyone more vulnerable to hackers and state-sponsored attackers.

While the sad reality is that we cannot trust the government to put privacy first over its surveillance operations, perhaps the sadder reality is that we're now trusting the Silicon Valley giants to look out for us instead.