Some good things did happen in 2016

Digital freedom
4 mins
2016 wasn't so bad

This post was originally published on December 12, 2016.

Everyone agrees 2016 has been terrible. Much-loved people died, catastrophes happened, and no one could shake the feeling it was a particularly bad year.

But ExpressVPN is optimistic about the future. And plenty of great things did happen in 2016.

1. 2016 was a great year for encryption

Overall, 2016 was a good year for encryption. Most importantly, there is good reason to believe we might have won the big encryption debate.

While the UK’s Snooper’s Charter and Rule 41 in the U.S. were both passed—making it largely legal for the government to spy on us and hack our devices—they actually change little from existing practices.

Instead, we’re winning the encryption battle by making it impossible for anyone, including powerful nation states, to monitor our browsing and access our communications. In fact, security is so good on some devices police are forced to snatch them from a subject’s hands before they are locked out.

The case of Apple vs. FBI and the competition around chat apps show how tech companies sometimes do stand up for our rights. Especially when it’s good for their business. The chat encryption movement has created intense pressure on Facebook and Google to follow.

ExpressVPN is confident that as technology progresses, the government’s demands for comprehensive surveillance will be nothing more than an Orwellian dream.

2. Elon Musk happened, and we’re one step closer to life on Mars

After successfully landing a rocket on land last year, the visionary company around serial entrepreneur Elon Musk was able to repeat the feat, but this time on a floating barge.

In April 2016, for the first time, a Falcon 9 rocket remotely landed on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean, after delivering six Orbcomm satellites into Earth’s lower orbit. Building on the success, the firm hopes to one day offer private trips to Mars.

Publicly funded agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are already sending robots to space, and both had success stories in 2016.

NASA’s first asteroid sampling mission is currently on its way to Benno; an asteroid formed when the universe was still in its infancy, roughly 4.5 billion years ago. The mission will collect parts of the asteroid and bring them back to Earth. The hope is to learn more about the origins of our solar system, and existence itself.

In July, NASA’s Juno probe reached the orbit of Jupiter, and it will continue to get closer to the gas planet. The spacecraft will eventually suicide crash into Jupiter, after completing 37 orbits. Juno will hopefully settle an old debate about whether Jupiter has a solid core, and learn more about how gravity actually works.

In Europe, ESA’s Schiaparelli spacecraft failed to reach the surface of Mars after a software glitch caused it to crash and disintegrate on the surface. The ESA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, jointly developed with Russia’s Roscosmos, did reach its destination in the Mars orbit, however. The orbiter is currently mapping the planet’s atmosphere, analyzing gasses (like methane) potentially created by biological activity.

3. There were fewer wars and more justice for corrupt governments in 2016

Every war is one too many, but there are only four current conflicts with more than 10,000 deaths per year. The Syrian civil war caused the most casualties, and the ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan wars are also worth noting.

But, overall, it’s a stark improvement from the mid-90s, when over 20 armed conflicts were happening at any one time. Former large-scale military operations, like the Mexican drug war and the South Sudanese civil war, no longer appear on the conflict list.

As many conflicts come to an end, the eternal debate over how to deal with post-war justice continues. Ideally, the winners of a battle shouldn’t be able to take revenge on the losers, no matter how repressive their regime might’ve been. But a post-conflict society might suffer from granting previous autocrats amnesty or even allowing them to serve a role in new governments.

International Courts, established to settle post-war disagreements, have had some great successes in 2016:

  • After an 8-year trial, Radovan Karadzic was convicted of genocide and jailed for his involvement in the Bosnia war.
  • Jean-Pierre Bemba, who led the Congolese Liberation Movement, was convicted of multiple war crimes and is now in jail. He’s also the first person to be found guilty of using rape as a war crime.
  • Former despot, Chad’s Hissène Habré, was found guilty of crimes against humanity in May.

Finally, a report on U.S. coalition activities in Afghanistan shows that all crime will be investigated. And that Western states and their war criminals are not immune to justice.

4. WikiLeaks, leaks, leaks, and Panama leaks

While not as impressive as the Snowden leaks, the Panama Papers shed light on the dealings of the world’s super rich and powerful.

ExpressVPN asked what the leaks would mean for privacy, but ultimately, there is still no clear answer. There are legitimate reasons for an offshore firm, but the Panama Leaks focus on illegally obtained fortunes of authoritarian leaders. Surely not a bad thing.

WikiLeaks also re-entered global conscience by releasing troves of documents from the private email servers of America’s political elites. The organization is accused of influencing the election in favor of “Putin’s candidate,” Donald Trump. But like any leaks, the information is only as good as the wrongdoing it exposes.

Maybe 2016 was OK after all

In reality, 2016 was probably not that bad overall. The problem is that it takes years to build things, create legends, or foster livable societies. Then only a day for a loved artist to die, or a war to break out.

In the end, there’s good reason to look forward to 2017. ExpressVPN and countless others will be busy trying to make the world a freer, safer, and better place.

Lexie is the blog's resident tech expert and gets excited about empowerment through technology, space travel, and pancakes with blueberries.