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In Memoriam: Caspar Bowden

DEEPLINKS BLOG
July 9, 2015

In Memoriam: Caspar Bowden

Like so many of his friends and colleagues across the world, we were shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Caspar Bowden, the British privacy activist and co-founder of the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR).

Among a community filled with perceptive advocates for a better future, Caspar Bowden stood out as one of the most prescient and the most determined. With a far-reaching knowledge of both policy and technology, he was frequently years ahead of his contemporaries in identifying upcoming issues, and never hesitated to transform his own life and career to better meet those challenges.

Caspar was a key figure in the British fight for the right to encrypt in the 1990s Crypto Wars. As a technology adviser for Scientists for Labour, he successfully convinced Britain's Labour party, then out of power, to adopt a civil liberties platform that was strongly pro-privacy and pro-encryption.

But when Labour attained power in 1997, its leadership turned its back on the party's own election promises. Instead it began drafting a potentially catastrophic law that would have mandated compulsory crypto backdoors in the UK. Caspar leapt from internal lobbying of the Labour party to co-found the Foundation for Information Policy Research, a non-partisan thinktank that intellectually dominated the opposition to Labour's new policy. What eventually became the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) would have been a far worse law without Caspar's constant interrogation of its drafters, and behind the scenes lobbying for better language, oversight, and an abandonment of backdoors and key escrow as a statutory goal.

After RIPA passed into law, Caspar joined Microsoft as its Senior Privacy Strategist. From 2002, he worked within the corporate sector to improve user privacy. His experiences at Microsoft gave him the insight and later authority to warn others of the dangerous weaknesses of the United States' legal protections for non-U.S. persons.

When he left Microsoft in 2011, he once again became an independent voice, warning others that they were sleepwalking into a surveillance state. He had surmised what Snowden's leaks ultimately confirmed: that the NSA was using the United States dominance in hosting new "cloud" services to spy with almost no legal limits on the rest of the world. Instead of a single political party or the British establishment, he now began to educate and inform the European Union about how its member states and citizens were being treated by the U.S. intelligence services, and how they could fight back. From this broader stage, his reputation as a deeply knowledgeable expert on surveillance spread across the world.

Caspar frequently had the frustrating experience of seeing his most pessimistic predictions disregarded as alarmist, only to turn out to be true all along. His final illness came just as Britain's Prime Minister once again made the call to eliminate strong encryption and insert dangerous and futile backdoors by force of law. Caspar passed away before he had the chance to see victory in this new, old, battle, but he left us with over twenty years of piercing analysis and compelling arguments to continue his work. It's now up to us to fulfill his wishes in compliance with the high expectations he always expected and lived by.

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