September 6, 2012 | By Eva Galperin

Don’t Wait for the UK Snoopers’ Charter to Pass: Encrypt Wikipedia Now

A joint committee of the UK’s House of Lords and the House of Commons is preparing to debate a draft bill known as the Snoopers’ Charter, a disastrous data retention bill which, as Techdirt explained, "would require ISPs to record key information about every email sent and Web site visited by UK citizens, and mobile phone companies to log all their calls." But before they begin, MPs are doing their homework. In addition to having a public consultation, they are taking oral testimony from a range of stakeholders, including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Wales has been an outspoken critic of the Snoopers’ Charter from the beginning, characterizing the proposed bill as “technologically incompetent,” and comparing it to the tactics of authoritarian regimes: "It is not the sort of thing I'd expect from a western democracy. It is the kind of thing I would expect from the Iranians or the Chinese." In this week’s testimony, he went on to say that if the data retention bill were passed into law, he would move to encrypt all of Wikipedia’s connections with Britain, forcing the government to resort to the “black arts” in order to gain information about the pages Britons are reading and editing on Wikipedia. He went on to urge other Internet companies to do the same.

Wales was not specific about the technology he had in mind, but we assume that his testimony referred to enabling HTTPS (the encrypted, more secure version of the protocol that displays content on your web browser) by default in the UK. Wikipedia currently supports HTTPS for security-minded users, but defaults to the insecure version. Chrome and Firefox users can make sure that they always access Wikipedia securely via HTTPS by using HTTPS Everywhere.

While it is unclear that Wales has the authority to mandate the use of HTTPS by default for Wikipedia users in Britain, EFF believes that this is an idea that the Wikipedia community should consider—not just in Britain, but all over the world. Rather than waiting for bad legislation, Wikipedians should take this opportunity to make one relatively small technical change that could serve as a bulwark against all kinds of government surveillance, filtering and data retention laws.

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