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MI5 chief to tech firms: help us get around encryption

The outgoing director general of MI5 has become the latest spy chief to issue a call for “exceptional” access to encrypted platforms.

In an interview due to be broadcast on ITV tonight (27 February), Sir Andrew Parker laments the rise of the “wild west” of cyber space, which he says is “unregulated” and “inaccessible to authorities”.

“I say to the [tech] companies: Can you please use the brilliant technologists you’ve got to answer this question, which is: Can you provide end-to-end encryption but on an exceptional basis – exceptional basis – where there is a legal warrant and a compelling case to do it, provide access to stop the most serious forms of harm happening?”

Sir Andrew, who is due to step down in April, is just the latest in a long line of spy chiefs to rail against the rise of encryption.

Last year, senior officials at GCHQ – the UK’s signals intelligence agency – unveiled proposals that would give government agencies access to platforms such as WhatsApp without, they claimed, breaking encryption.

But critics said the measures would essentially force messaging services to “cc” law enforcement agencies every time a message was sent. In a letter signed by Apple, WhatsApp, Liberty and Privacy International, GCHQ was urged to drop the plan and prioritise “privacy rights, cyber security, public confidence and transparency”.

“The overwhelming majority of users rely on their confidence in reputable providers to perform authentication functions and verify that the participants in a conversation are the people they think they are, and only those people,” the letter said. “The GCHQ’s ghost proposal completely undermines this trust relationship and the authentication process.”