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The FBI wants you to stop worrying about privacy

You'd think that governments would be encouraging people to keep their computers and personal data safe.

Until relatively recently, this has been exactly what the FBI has been pushing - suggesting that phone users should enable encryption on their handsets. But it seems that there has been something of a change of heart. It's probably Snowden's fault (opens in new tab).

Now, as part of an "ongoing website redesign", advice about using encryption and protective PINs has vanished from the FBI website. Forget the security-focused devices such as the Blackphone 2 (opens in new tab), it appears that the bureau wants your data, and you, to be insecure.

As noted by TechDirt, (opens in new tab) the FBI website previously included an advice section entitled "safety tips to protect your mobile device". This has now gone, although it can still be seen on the Internet Archive's oh-so-helpful backup (opens in new tab). The FBI no longer suggests that phone users enable encryption on their handset to protect their data and their privacy. But this is far from the end of the story.

Speaking on Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey made a call for a ban on encryption. This is not something that came completely out of the blue, it's something he has been pursuing for some time now.

Of course it would be a little crazy to just make such a call with no justification behind it, and Comey was ready to pull on heart strings with a doom and gloom vision of a world in which an individual's privacy is seen as being of the utmost importance.

Rather than welcoming a future in which privacy is seen as key, he calls on those who believe in such a vision to imagine something a little darker: a world in which "pedophiles can't be seen, kidnappers can't be seen, drug dealers can't be seen".

But this is only one side of the story. The flipside of the coin is that a world in which pedophiles, kidnappers and drug dealers can be seen is a world in which everyone else can also be seen. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear is the common comeback, but that's really not the point.

People are very quick to question this likes of Google when the company tracks user data for targeted advertising and other purposes. But this is something that people, essentially, sign up for. You use Google and you know that your online activities are going to be monitored to some extent. It's a given. Being monitored by the government, however, is an entirely different matter. The very way in which NSA surveillance was carried out demonstrated perfectly that the people collecting data do not know what they're doing or what they're looking for.

With Comey and his ilk pushing for technology company to build backdoors (which we know can be problematic (opens in new tab)) into all of their products and services that offer encryption. He views encryption as a "huge problem" - but it's also an incredibly valuable tool for individuals. Encryption with backdoors is as good as no encryption, which is precisely what Comey would like.

Edward Snowden has previously criticised Amazon for failing to encrypt user data (as have others), and with a rise in security attacks, it's little wonder that, on the whole, there is an increased interest in data encryption.

The FBI and other organisations should be encouraging people to be safer, not pushing for a drop in security simply because it makes surveillance easier.

Photo credit: (opens in new tab) / Shutterstock (opens in new tab)