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These Two Countries Understand Encryption Better Than the United States

May 27, 2015

If you’ve read our Encryption 101 post or use Virtru to secure your email on a daily basis, chances are you understand encryption pretty well. You know that it’s another way of securing your most sensitive data and emails by rendering the contents unreadable to anyone who doesn’t have an encryption key. You also know that it’s such an important means of protecting privacy and security that many businesses include encryption in their data security policies, and many compliance protocols, from HIPAA to CJIS, require it.

But while on an individual level, getting a grasp on what encryption does isn’t that difficult, change is always slow on a larger scale. How many nations understand encryption? Does the United States understand encryption? Based on national policies, the answer varies from country to country, and unfortunately, many governments still look on the practice of encrypting data with suspicion. From their standpoint, if you don’t have anything to hide, there’s no need to go scrambling that data.

However, not every country is hostile to encryption — in fact, Germany is heavily pushing to make data-centric email encryption widely available for its citizens. Switzerland is another nation whose leaders understand encryption, and even use it to advance democracy.

Let’s take a look at how these two countries stack up against the United States when it comes to protecting privacy.

Does the United States Understand Encryption?

While citizens of the United States are legally allowed to use encryption, the US stance on encryption is a bit complicated, and betrays the fact that the folks in our government don’t necessarily understand encryption, from what it does to how it can be used, as well as they ought to.

Take the backdoor argument, for example. In 2014, FBI Director James Comey gave a presentation about the dangers of “going dark” — in other words, integrating encryption into services like iOS and Android without giving federal agencies a backdoor to decrypt that data. The crux of Comey’s argument is that without that backdoor, it would be harder for the government to prosecute criminals. When he was asked for a specific example of how encryption would thwart agencies from solving crimes, he stumbled, saying, “I don’t think I’ve found that one yet.” This didn’t engender much media confidence in Comey’s ability to understand encryption.

However, a lack of data-centric email encryption is a much more dangerous prospect when it comes to crime. While some criminals may use encryption to cover their tracks, users can protect their data from cyberthieves and hackers using encryption. Even members of the FBI understand encryption can prevent crime: the FBI website recommends that smartphone users use encryption to protect themselves from data loss in case of theft.

Germany’s Push for Data-Centric Email Encryption

While the US has a complicated relationship with encryption, Germany is a fantastic example of a nation that does understand encryption and its importance in protecting data security and privacy. There has been a huge push in Germany for data-centric email encryption, and so far its two largest email providers, Deutsche Telekom and United Internet, have signed on to the initiative.

Unlike the US, the German government has shown full support of the widespread push for email encryption. Says Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, “Germany wants to take a leading role in the use of digital services. Encryption is an important precondition for this.” Instead of seeing encryption as a threatening new technology (note: it isn’t new at all), Germany sees it as what it is: an important aspect of continuing to progress in a technologically advanced world.

It Doesn’t Take a Quantum Physicist to Understand Encryption

For the nations that do understand encryption, the technology becomes an important tool to protect not only their citizens’ data, but also their own. Switzerland is known for a few things, among them being the home of CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) and powerful laws to protect privacy. Cementing its status as a privacy and science powerhouse, Switzerland even used quantum cryptography, then a nascent encryption technology, to secure its 2007 elections.

Switzerland also distinguishes itself from most of the rest of Europe as a country that understands encryption shouldn’t require a backdoor for foreign governments. This is part of the reason that Swiss hosting grew rapidly after the revelation of the PRISM surveillance program in 2013. This also presents an interesting business case: countries that understand encryption will attract privacy- and security-minded businesses to their services.

Convenient Email Encryption with Virtru

While not every country understands encryption, everyone deserves privacy. Just as you have the ability to build a fence, close your blinds and lock your door, you should have the right to encrypt your data and email without suspicion. Email encryption isn’t sketchy — it’s a smart way to protect your privacy, as well as arm yourself against hackers and cyberthieves.

Luckily, client-side email encryption doesn’t have to be difficult. Virtru is a simple browser add-on that allows you to encrypt your email messages and attachments with a flick of a switch. Download Virtru for free today to see how easy it is to protect your privacy.