11 April 1959: An undergraduate asks "is chastity outmoded?"

From our correspondence.

11 April 1959

SIR, - May a 21-year-old student give his reaction to the problem of "outmoded chastity"? For spiritual and psychological reasons which Dr Chesser evidently endorses, my girl-friend and I intend to retain our chastity until marriage. University life is not conducive to this. I, for one, find "integrity", as Dr Chesser calls it, increasingly difficult to maintain.

My own experience and that of many friends emphatically denies that (a) a choice free from the pressure of society would increase chastity; and (b) that the "unconscious fear of frustrating maternal instinct" is an adequate balance. By all means get rid of the guilt and hypocrisy, but if every other social influence is removed Dr Chesser's "homily" leaves the field uncontested to a converse pressure about which he seems to be unaware - the less easily resisted influence which says "Go on, you're young, what does it matter when you're in love - or even if you're not in love".

Dr Chesser thinks that only a minority find it difficult. I question this very strongly indeed. If it is true it can only be because the majority are not subjected to the pressures which exist in university life. I doubt that these are much stronger than elsewhere. Has Dr Chesser any convincing new values to redress the balance which he leaves overweighted with the combined pressures of natural impulses and a provocative social environment?

He leaves me for one in a disturbing physical and emotional turmoil, feeling that it would be so much easier if chastity were outmoded. And this is evidently not the conclusion he intended. Can sexologists have attained so pure a degree of dispassion that they are unable to assess the impact of their articles? But why should he bother? It isn't his problem any longer. He's married.

Signed, "Undergraduate"

University students on spring break in Texas. Photo: Getty Images.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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