Is it legal to use PrismCipher?

Soon it may not be.

A good way to explore this question is for you and I to first discern the difference between the legality of something and the ethics of it (or what is inherently “right”).

For example, it may be perfectly legal in your State to “stand your ground” during an attack, otherwise you may have a “duty to retreat.” (These are not to be confused with “castle doctrine” laws, which apply to your home, though some attorneys muddy the distinctions.)

In Texas, you can stand and fight and even use deadly force to protect yourself, your family and your property. (This even extends to your automobile, place of work and anywhere else a person “has a right to be present.”)

In Ohio, you can stand your ground, sort of… but you first have to be in your car, whereas in Rhode Island if you’re in public you must retreat before acting to defend yourself.

That’s bad, but it can always get worse: the laws in Vermont and Washington, D.C. require citizens to flee from criminal assailants, even within their own homes!

These are legal issues, not ethical ones. It’s not right to abandon your family or property during an attack. It’s also unethical for the law to demand you acquiesce to an aggressor, especially in your own home. Defending yourself in Texas is legal. In Vermont, it’s both illegal and totally unethical. For those who slavishly follow the law, this may be a hot button. Let’s examine a few more.

Consider the ethics of protecting the defenseless, such as unborn children.

The issue is neither about “pro-life” nor “pro-choice”—it’s about due process. Under The Constitution, vile citizens—rapists, murderers and those who prey on children and the elderly—are granted due process of law (trial by jury, appeals, etc.) In contrast, the most innocent of us (babies in the womb) may have their lives taken on a whim without so much as a court hearing. There’s legal, and then there’s ethical. It’s legal to terminate an unborn person’s life, but it’s ethical to protect them as they are defenseless. It’s the right thing to do, even to the point of resisting the law.

What about self-protection and gun control?

When we criminalize gun ownership we can be sure criminals will possess much more guns than those who follow the law. The law will never deter lawbreakers, but it can easily make victims of those who confuse ethics for legality. The weapon of the law can be used to deprive law-abiding citizens of rights they never should have considered surrendering in the first place. Rights like self-protection.

And privacy. Nothing protects online digital privacy like encryption.

When we make it illegal, only criminals will use it and benefit from it. By definition, they’ll be the only ones enjoying privacy. The issue isn’t about hiding things. It’s about not having to show things.

“ You invade my privacy, it’s nothing. I try to get it back, it’s a crime. It’s not that I have something to hide. I have nothing I want you to see. ”
The Girl (Amanda Seyfried) in Anon (2018)

Legislation cannot secure privacy—that can only be guaranteed by encryption. While it may be legal to design and use encryption for the moment, there are plenty of rumblings to make it illegal. Or at least make it so weak it’s not worth using.

So, is it legal to use PrismCipher? This is the wrong question. (When you ask the wrong question you always get the wrong answer, even if it’s correct.) Better to ask: is it ethical to use PrismCipher? Is it right to assert your right to free speech and privacy, using encryption to do so?

Governments may outlaw encryption as they please, but they can only change the legality of using it—not the ethics of it.

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