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Nowadays, strong cryptography is a frequently used term interpreted as a means to exchange and protect information in the electronic world. The increased necessity to use cryptographic methods to hide some facts and make them readable for a certain group of people only, a number of ethical questions and global concerns take place. On the one hand, people want to protect their rights and get access to individual communication. On the other hand, the intentions of one group of people to use cryptography may become a real threat to another group of people. There is a kind of ethical dilemma, and Kant’s Principle of Universalization (the first version of the Categorical Imperative) offers one of the possible solutions to treat strong encryption as a morally permissible concept that is wrong to prohibit or make obligatory.
Kant’s Principle as a Method of Moral Evaluation
Deontological approaches help to comprehend the essence of moral obligations that is unconditional and the reasons for why people have to obey them even if the outcomes contradict personal interests (Kant’s Deontological Ethics 39). The Categorical Imperative developed by Kant has several versions, and the first version, the Principle of Universalization, explains how to act in regards to the maximum (e.g. the rule that is approved legally and socially) that can be introduced as a universal law.
To comprehend if the action is or is not universalizable, a person should stay impartial to everything connected with a particular case and develop judgments using dry facts and the “universal law” concepts. The Principle of Universalization informs about the impossibility to define actions as morally approved in case some contradictions can be found around. People have to be sure that all their actions, thoughts, and the outcomes of their activities do not contradict the laws people have to follow.
Strong Encryption according to Kant’s Principle
Strong encryption is an ethically challenged concept. Still, from an ethical point of view, it is a good activity the presence of which does not lead to some immoral outcomes. Still, if encryption is used by a criminal or a socially unstable person, whose decisions and actions may hurt other people, it may become a tool for the actions that are morally wrong.
Therefore, it is possible to say that according to the Principle of Universalization developed by Kant, strong encryption can be permissible regarding the nature of a person it is used by. It is wrong to pose some obligations on people to use encryption or prohibit to use it from time to time. At the same time, there are no prohibitions to make attempts and analyze the encrypted material. Such attempts made by special governmental representatives can be approved by the Universal Law as a possibility to promote a society with safety.
In general, it is hard to comprehend the concept of strong encryption in terms of ethical regulations and expectations. Each researcher and philosopher can develop various approaches on how to treat the opportunity to exchange encrypted information. The position of Kant offered in the Principle of Universalization helps to consider strong encryption as a morally permissible practice the quality of which depends on the nature and the psychological condition of a person, who tries to use it. People should have rights to make their independent decisions. The prohibition or obligation to use strong encryption contradicts the idea of the Natural Law. Still, permission is a neutral side that can be offered as the possible solution.
“Kant’s Deontological Ethics.” Three Ethical Theories n.d. 39-47.