The EU is set to declare war on encryption with plans to allow law enforcement officials “targeted lawful access” to protected communications, according to a European Commission internal note seen by the Financial Times.
The note outlines the commission’s aim to “stimulate a discussion” among EU member states “on the issues posed by end-to-end encryption” for the purpose of tackling child abuse and other organised crime networks.
The note reportedly read:
“The application of encryption in technology has become readily accessible, often free of charge, as industry is opting to include encryption features by default in their products. Criminals can make use of readily available, off-the-shelf solutions conceived for legitimate purposes. This makes the work of law enforcement and the judiciary more challenging, as they seek to obtain lawful access to evidence.”
A revolt by western politicians against the encryption offered by messaging services such as WhatsApp has been a long time in progress. In the US, attorney-general William Barr has repeatedly railed against encryption, purportedly on the grounds that it makes it harder for law enforcement officials to track down and prosecute criminals.
His arguments have been echoed by politicians in the UK such as Yvette Cooper, who challenged Facebook over its plans to introduce encryption for its messaging service at a parliamentary committee meeting in June.
The Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance (comprising the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand), is reportedly planning to stage a legal challenge against Facebook over its intentions.
However, technologists and privacy advocates have repeatedly slammed these manoeuvres. They claim that implementing weaker protections in order to allow law enforcement access would result in flimsier security for everyone – including law enforcement themselves. If a backdoor is built in a service for law enforcement, the argument goes, it will be vulnerable to exploitation by hackers, cyber criminals and spies too.
“Preventing crime and keeping people safe is a universal priority. However, attempts by governments to weaken encryption as a means to fight crime not only undermine efforts to prevent crime but creates a dangerous precedent that compromises the personal security of billions of people and the national security of countries around the world,” says Ryan Polk, senior policy advisor at the Internet Society.
“Weakening encryption by creating ‘backdoor access’ to prevent crime, is like trying to solve one problem by creating 1,000 more. There is no evidence that weakening encryption by creating ‘backdoor access’ would stop criminals from finding new ways to communicate secretly via tools on the black market, and fundamentally compromise encryption technologies.”
The European Commission didn’t respond to a request for comment.