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NYPD’s anti-encryption Twitter hashtag hijacked by opponents

A hashtag is for everyone. When you create that little hyperlink preceded by a hash symbol on social media, you open it up to the public, whether they agree with your sentiment or not.

Corporations have learned that rule the hard way, and are increasingly trademarking their branded hashtags — or simply accepting an inevitable online drubbing — as a result. Whether or not, the NYPD will have gotten the message in the wake of its #UnlockJustice hashtag causing a (predictable) Twitter backlash remains to be seen.

An anti-encryption campaign launched in conjunction by the NYPD and Manhattan D.A. Cyrus R. Vance Jr., #UnlockJustice was intended “to highlight the impact encryption is having on public safety and victims of crime.” The manufactured hashtag carrying the campaign slogan was seen as a way of taking the argument online to attract further support on social media. The tweet below, from the campaign’s press conference in Manhattan, shows how the hashtag was intended to be used. The only problem is, many Twitter users who outspokenly oppose the NYPD’s stance on encryption, had other ideas.

Related: NYPD sides with FBI in the war against unbreakable encryption

“No consumer product should be warrant-proof, and yet that is the situation Apple and Google have created. Congress should not permit companies to manufacture devices that are impenetrable to judicial search warrants,” stated Vance at the launch. “It should not permit companies to provide criminals with unprecedented, evidence-free zones. Crime victims are entitled to stronger protections than criminals.”

Trawling through the tweets that carry the hashtag, it is immediately clear that more people are using #UnlockJustice to bash the campaign than to actually promote it.

“People deserve stronger protection than criminals. Default strong encryption protects civilians against muggers and thieves. #UnlockJustice,” reads one tweet.

Another states: “You can’t have democracy without privacy. Legislating weak cryptography endangers everyone, not just a few select victims. #UnlockJustice”

For its part, the NYPD hasn’t engaged any of the opponents on Twitter. The last thing it needs now is an outdrawn Twitter feud, in which the odds are evidently stacked against it.

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