The personal computer is already an impressive technology, and it is only in its infancy. The potential of such arbitrary power in the hands of individuals is incredible. It allows people to generate, share and process information to an unprecedented degree. It also allows people to hide information. In fact, with current encryption models, it is possible to arbitrarily determine sets of people who may share a particular piece of information, and set of people who may not. Not only is it possible, but it is cheap and easy.
Of course, the most common response to this potential is positive. Oft-cited is the enhancement of personal privacy this technology offers, and attempts to restrict free access to arbitrary encryption are met with fierce resistance from individuals and groups on grounds of a basic human right to privacy. Those who would restrict encryption usually argue that the potential for criminal use of this technology is too large to ignore.
The claim that privacy is a basic human right is an interesting one. It is stated as an axiom, and therefore is presented as unassailable. I would argue that privacy is not a basic human right at all, and that in fact, privacy is not a right, and ultimately does more damage than good. Faced with this assertion, privacy advocates (that I have talked to) tend to respond with situations in which there is a legitimate reason for privacy. For example, witness protection programs, and victims of abuse need to be protected from (further) harm, and restricting information about those people is the best way to do this. This is probably the hardest argument for me to answer, and the solution is by no means perfect. Essentially, in a society in which privacy is not possible, a person with the intent to harm another will not be able to hide this intent, and it will be possible to stop them.
The potential dangers of widespread strong encryption and privacy are largely based on the potential for criminal use. Anything from minor tax evasion to international terrorism becomes much easier.
Obviously, I'm doing this at the last minute, and am not done yet. -->