Activity Workshop

Murmur - Impetus

These pages about the proposed friend-to-friend system Murmur have been online for some time now, but still they're just ideas, nothing has been built yet. And the reaction from readers has been extremely muted, to say the least. Maybe noone wants a network like this, or maybe everyone who wants one already uses one of the existing programs?

This page aims to discuss why the demand for this kind of privacy is growing, and why the impetus for building it is going to grow further.

Who's it for?

Requiring encryption and privacy is often seen as suspicious, there is an implicit assumption among many that if you've got nothing to hide, then you shouldn't mind being under surveillance. After all, the surveillance and monitoring is only there to catch the bad guys, right? and you're not one of them.

So who would want to communicate with their friends using encrypted channels, surely only the bad guys, right? They must be up to no good. Therefore it stands to reason that Murmur shouldn't be built, because it will only help those involved in illegal, or immoral, or fanatical deeds. Once a piece of software is written and released, it's not possible to stop other people using your software for things with which you don't agree. But just because it could be used for unwanted things (just as any communication medium can), that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be written. People still make and sell hammers, even though they can be used for violent crime.

The point is that any tool has multiple uses, and if it has a valid and useful purpose for the majority of law-abiding people, then it's fully justified.

Reasons to use it

Perhaps you don't think you need encrypted communications, because you're not doing anything wrong and you don't have a problem with your emails and messages being read if they're harmless. Fair enough, but consider that several people have recently got into trouble for the things which they have written to their friends, even though they were perfectly innocent. Unwise perhaps, but if they believed their messages to be private between them and their friends, then they got a nasty shock.

Consider the following stories, recently in the news, and how the surveillance and monitoring of innocent people caused them more than a few problems:

Of course, the mysterious Echelon system has been in place for many years, and routinely monitors all kinds of communications. But only in recent years does the paranoia and feverishness seem to have escalated. It's hard to see how such naive keyword searching would have any impact at all on anybody who was seriously intending to do something bad, they wouldn't be so stupid as to use any words which would look suspicious. No, the only impact that these desperate victimisation and villainisation has is on regular, innocent people exchanging innocent messages.

There comes a point when the average, law-abiding civilian needs to use some kind of encryption just to avoid being mistreated in this way. As the treatment of our privacy becomes ever more negligent and aggressive, it is only reasonable that people start seeking some measures to protect themselves.

Recent developments

There's also an interesting piece on from March 2012, claiming that the popularity of Retroshare, one of the possible foundations for a Murmur-like project, has boomed in recent months. This may partly be in reaction to the closure of file-sharing sites, but may also be based on the desire for more privacy in personal communications. Retroshare could turn out to be the basis of a Mumur-like prototype, so the popularity of retroshare is great for the potential development of Murmur.