This week was a busy week in the news, but if you weren’t paying close attention you could have easily missed some of the most important stories. It might sound surprising, but an attempt to ban WhatsApp and all other forms of end-to-end encrypted messaging might be the least important thing that happened this week.


1. WhatsApp, and all other encrypted messaging might be banned

In an attempt to “keep us safe,” the UK government under David Cameron is pushing forward a bill (Investigatory Powers Bill) to ban all end-to-end encryption services. Such services, like WhatsApp and Snapchat, encrypt a sender’s message before it goes out and it remains encrypted until received by the recipient.

The scary thing about this is that it would make all the data not only available to the government at any time, but it also makes it more easily accessible to hackers. This would make it even easier for anyone to access whatever you are sending, removing any remaining security of privacy regarding what is sent from your phone.

The supposed justification is the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, but it seems unlikely that an additional loss of privacy would make us any safer. Dangerous people may now find alternative ways to hide what they are saying, ways that may be harder for intelligence agencies to investigate.

There is also no guaranty that the government will specifically target those they consider to be a significant threat, and the data accessed, including data from innocent people, may be shared among people privately or leaked to the public by government employees or hacker groups.

2. ExxonMobil knew about the environmental costs of its behavior since 1981

An email from Exxon’s in-house climate expert supplies evidence that the company was aware of the connection between fossil fuels and climate change, even in 1981.

Although Exxon now claims to accept climate change as real, and to no longer be funding think tanks dedicated to fostering denial of existing climate science, they still spent at least $30 million fighting science that they internally recognized during the last 30 years.

3. It will take over 100 years for the world’s poorest to earn $1.25 a day

Recently, economist David Woodward wrote about the feasibility of the Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty entirely by 2030 in an article published in the World Economic Review. Woodward shows that, using our existing economic model, eradicating poverty simply won’t happen. Not that it probably won’t happen, but that it physically can’t. It’s literally impossible even if we pretend that $1.25 is worth as much in 20 years as it is today.

Even if we assume a constant growth rate at the highest level the poorest 10% have seen in the last 30 years, it would take at least 100 years for these people to earn $1.25 a day. Odds are, if you are reading this article, you probably earn more than $1.25 a day, but are you surviving with ease? Putting the border of poverty so low only does one thing: it helps reduce the number of “poor people” in the statistics without actually improving anyone’s quality of life.

The sad thing is that our system is structured in such a way that our “most profitable” industries would make no profit if they paid their ecological costs and in which the poorest people are barely offered a chance to survive.

4. We’re already in previous “worst case scenarios” for sea level rise

According to a new study published in the journal Science, we are already on the fast-track to catastrophic climate change and sea level rise characterized as the “worst case” by scientists 20 years ago. The evidence seems to indicate we are in for a rise in sea level of more than 6 meters, which would put most coastal cities and many islands underwater.


5. Psychologists shielded the U.S. torture program

A 542 page report on the role of U.S. psychologists (published by the APA) in the C.I.A.’s torture program paints a disturbing picture. It appears that while internal agency health professions argued against many of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” being prepared for seemingly uncooperative prisoners, outside psychologists were consulted to support the program and give legitimacy to DoD policies.

The report showed that the APA’s ethics office “prioritized the protection of psychologists – even though who might have engaged in unethical behavior – above the protection of the public.” It seems the APA’s ethics commission seems to identify more with Dr. Lecter than Dr. Phil, at least regarding their cooperation with the C.I.A.