My world has a very peculiar low forbidding people from ciphering information. The penalty for such a thing is very very high. In this world everything should be seen and understood by anyone. It's a world of total openness.

It's different from this question because it's not forbidden by the lack of knowledge but by some government. This obviously grant the possibility of breaking the law by ciphering information.

  • What would this society look like?

Related questions:

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ possible duplicate of What would a society without cryptography look like? $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Jul 16, 2015 at 23:34
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    $\begingroup$ everything should be seen and understood by anyone. That's more than just forbidding crypto - it's also forbidding secrecy and deception. If I ask you for your bank details, you have to give them to me. Hell, to make things really inappropriate, if I ask you when you're going to be alone next, you'll have to tell me that too. $\endgroup$
    – user6511
    Jul 17, 2015 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ It will be bad for businesses, bidding for project becomes uncompetitive, the rich dominate the market while extinguishes innovation, in short no incentive or drive as research becomes stagnant. In that case Russia don't need Snowden any more! $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Jul 17, 2015 at 6:16
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    $\begingroup$ Be tough on anyone learning a foreign language. If I can't read it, you are committing a crime. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Jul 17, 2015 at 17:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Wait a few years and the UK will show you the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Gusdor
    Feb 8, 2016 at 12:54

4 Answers 4


Well as a given people will still have cryptography.

To avoid punishment messages will be hidden using code words and the like, within larger messages that would appear to be about something else. Even if law enforcement had strong suspicion that a message contained a secret message, proving it would be difficult, and maintaining plausible deniability would be easy.

Cryptography would have to be done such that it isn't definitely apparent as cryptography. This still isn't that significant, unless the legal system suddenly lowers the standards for a shadow of a doubt quite a lot, proving something is coded when it is intended to not appear to be would be nigh impossible.

Cryptography would be pretty similar it would just be slightly inconvenienced.

EDIT: What I mentioned is technically stenography not cryptography, anyway stenography will become widespread partially replacing cryptography.

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ The term you're looking for is steganography. $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2015 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ Could you be more specific about how people would carry messages with "fake" other messages? Do you have any example? $\endgroup$
    – Ephasme
    Jul 17, 2015 at 7:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Ephasme - please see the Wiki article on steganography en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steganography. Especially notice the picture of a cat hidden in a picture of trees. $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2015 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ Some codes are the use of words spaced inside of regular text. Your code book tells you which words matter. The poems that have the first words mean something when read down the stanza are a simple example. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Jul 17, 2015 at 17:07

There are real-world examples for what you have in mind.

Take France, circa 1995. That's just 22 years ago now. The following is a summary from 1999, courtesy of The Register.

Until 1996 anyone wishing to encrypt any document had to first receive an official sanction or risk fines from F6000 to F500,000 (\$1000 to \$89,300) and a 2-6 month jail term. Right now, apart from a handful of exemptions, any unauthorised use of encryption software is illegal. Encryption software can be used by anyone, but only if it's very easy to break.

(In current terms, the fines ranged from €914 to €76,224, not adjusted for inflation and based on the exchange rate of 6.55957 franc per euro.)

In a society where encryption, or even just encryption that's strong enough to make a significant difference, exists but is illegal to use, it's very hard to protect digital information that is in transit. This means that information that we might readily send over the Internet encrypted might need to be delivered in person, perhaps by a trusted courier, to prevent it from being intercepted.

If your society also prohibits the use of digital signatures and similar schemes, you also have a hard time proving or confirming the authenticity of information that has been transmitted or stored electronically. This for example means that it is very difficult to enter into an agreement electronically, because whatever is being transmitted between the parties could be tampered with and nobody would be able to prove that what was finally agreed to was what was intended to be agreed to.

If your society also prohibits the use of things like hash functions then you have a big job in defining exactly where to draw the line. A hash function, in somewhat simple terms, is a mathematical function that accepts an input of arbitrary length, and outputs a value, typically of fixed length, which depends only on the input data. However, many functions with legitimate non-cryptographic uses, such as cyclic redundancy check (CRC) and forward error correction (FEC) codes can also meet such a definition. You have also pretty much outlawed every conceivable secure password verification scheme, because in order to be secure, you typically store only the output of a hash function given the password as input. (Before someone takes the preceding sentence and homebrews their own password storage: there are many, many, many nuances to this. For example, a plain cryptographic hash of a password is almost never secure enough against reasonable adversaries. Like all other cryptography, don't invent your own.)

This boils down to that it is very difficult to securely store or transmit information or agree to anything, except in person.

  • Web shops and other forms of mail order exist, but electronic payment via tokens that need to be kept secret (such as credit card numbers and CVVs) is much more involved and might not exist.
  • Knowing who sent an electronic message is nearly impossible, as is knowing that it has not been tampered with.
  • For any kind of sensitive information, in-person delivery is likely to be preferred over any remote means of delivery.

However, I disagree with o.m.'s statement that for example cell phones would be unavailable. There are plenty of precedents for technology being available in controlled products, such as cellphones, which is not available in "raw" form. For example, even if you had the technical expertise, it's unlikely that you'd be allowed to build a cell phone yourself from scratch and use it with a random cell phone network, because a cell phone operates in frequency bands which are restricted to type-approved equipment, and getting type approval can easily require you to jump through any number of hoops. One such hoop could conceivably be installing a government-mandated back door to the encryption, or maybe the cell phone network requires that you use weak cryptography enabling the government to eavesdrop. (In GSM, A5/1 and A5/2 are the real things, and both have been successfully broken.) Broadly speaking, the only part of the radio spectrum where prior type approval is not required is that allocated to amateur radio, where encryption is prohibited.

And of course, in the words of Philip R. Zimmermann, the inventor of PGP, in volume 1 of the PGP User's Guide, the below being from the copy for version 2.6.2 released in October 1994,

If privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy. Intelligence agencies have access to good cryptographic technology. So do the big arms and drug traffickers. So do defense contractors, oil companies, and other corporate giants. But ordinary people and grassroots political organizations mostly have not had access to affordable "military grade" public-key cryptographic technology. Until now.

People who are already violating the law tend to either not care if their communications are intercepted, or not care about breaking one more law. Laws prohibiting cryptography won't stop them from using cryptographic tools if they want to, but those laws will prevent generally law-abiding citizens from using cryptographic tools to protect the privacy and integrity of their data.

  • No internet shops, because there is no online payment system.
  • The web doesn't work, anyway, because pishing and spamming drowns out all legitimate content. Unless the lack of payment systems makes spamming unattractive.
  • No cellphones, either, because phones can't authenticate themselves to the towers. Landline phone or CB radio.
  • Many people are employed as couriers, carrying confidential information as printout in briefcases.

The world might look a lot like 40s or 50s science fiction.

  • $\begingroup$ But some people could break the law, how the outlaws societies would organize? Somewhat like ours? $\endgroup$
    – Ephasme
    Jul 17, 2015 at 7:45
  • $\begingroup$ I think you got it wrong. Because even though information like credit card codes isn’t encrypted it is still illegal to steal from someone, at least that's how I figured it out. Also I think that cellphones authentication is not what OP had in mind, but strictly speaking that is encrypted info. $\endgroup$
    – w_builder
    Jul 17, 2015 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ @w_builder, there are door locks even if theft is illegal. No encryption means no padlocks on credit cards. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Jul 17, 2015 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ @o.m. well yeah...I guess that depends on definition of encryption and how wide do you think of it, but door locks aren't my first (or second) thought when you say encryption. And, again just because something isn't locked doesn't mean that it is legal to use it. $\endgroup$
    – w_builder
    Aug 3, 2015 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ You seem to have a high standard on human morality. Sending bank informations without encryption would be like sending a bag of gold without any protection but a word "please do not steal" written on it. $\endgroup$ Jul 12, 2017 at 19:32
  1. Mnemonic techniques will become very popular. Assuming that encryption is absolutely forbidden, and that enforcement is both reliable and severe, there will be next to no way of concealing electronic data. So when absolutely necessary, people will view sensitive media very quickly, and then memorize their contents. Futhermore, an individual with a great deal of information stored inside their head will be able to avoid people guessing their goals, schedule, etc. by reading their web searches.

  2. Offline networks will be ubiquitous. Because scientific computation and corporate development is still necessary, virtually every company will have extensive offline servers for development purposes. These will be heavily secured, and password-protected (not the same as encryption, I think). If someone grabs the hard drives, they can still get the data, because encryption is illegal. Of course, maybe passwords are too, but that changes little.

  3. As mentioned in other answers, physical documents will be common. The same principle as offline servers.

  4. Most people who have not mastered mnemonics will also have offline data storage. In fact, people might buy data (i.e. an encyclopedia, tax software) at physical stores, and physically transport it to their devices.

  5. There will be lots of "Max Headroom" incidents (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Headroom_broadcast_signal_intrusion.) To compensate for this, media may be streamed online (although advertisers or trolls may frequently intrude). Another possibility is that broadcasters might transmit a program on many bands simultaneously, so that even such incidents are unlikely to disrupt all channels.


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