In a carefully worded statement, the governments of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have reiterated their desire to crack encryption and snoop on citizens.
The cryptic message to the technology industry seems to be a relatively familiar one; our spies can’t crack your encryption software, so we are going to legally force you to grant us access. What you can expect to see over the next couple of months are various statements in the press, PR campaigns and op-ed pieces building a picture as to why the technology giants are undermining the judiciary system of democratic nations, and how they are toying with the safety of your life, your partners and of your children. It’s a tactic we’ve seen before, and we suspect it is on the horizon once again.
This appears to be the important aspect of the statement:
“Privacy laws must prevent arbitrary or unlawful interference, but privacy is not absolute. It is an established principle that appropriate government authorities should be able to seek access to otherwise private information when a court or independent authority has authorized such access based on established legal standards. The same principles have long permitted government authorities to search homes, vehicles, and personal effects with valid legal authority.
“The increasing gap between the ability of law enforcement to lawfully access data and their ability to acquire and use the content of that data is a pressing international concern that requires urgent, sustained attention and informed discussion on the complexity of the issues and interests at stake. Otherwise, court decisions about legitimate access to data are increasingly rendered meaningless, threatening to undermine the systems of justice established in our democratic nations.”
In short, governments want to force technology companies to open up their security features because they are not able to crack though themselves. The encryption software is not only good enough to protect users from the nefarious characters on the dark web, but it is resilient enough to keep the spooks at bay as well.
Of course there are scenarios when privacy and freedom of expression should be sacrificed, in an instance of war or genuine threat to national security. And there are cases where homes or offices could be searched in years gone because of a warrant signed by a judge. These warrants were critical in the pursuit of and prosecution of criminals. The digital world does make it difficult to make these pursuits a reality, but that does not warrant the introduction of backdoors in the software.
If a police force entered your home in years gone to seize information, they would enter through your front door. This is a barrier to protect your home and personal belongings, but allowing a backdoor in security features for intelligence agencies or police forces is also a welcome mat for hackers. The man on the street cannot protect themselves from this threat, therefore these governments are compromising the safety of the vast majority to further their own ambitions.
As it stands, these governments have offered no explanations as to how intelligence agencies would be able to access the information, but securities would remain robust against nefarious individuals on the dark web.
We contacted the UK Home Office which did not respond to our questions.
The Home Office did not respond to how it could justify weakening security in the name of security, or how it would actually work. Neither how it would prevent abuses of any preferential treatment for intelligence agencies or police forces. Finally, it did not offer any explanation for the process of accountability or justification.
Whenever there is progress in the technology world, the government and its agencies are left behind. Industry is lightyears ahead of intelligence agencies and police forces, and the government is attempting to scare the population into agreeing it is necessary to weaken encryption in pursuit of national security. It is a game of PR to justify legally strong-arming the technology companies into compliance.
This statement from the government is simple; we don’t like encryption services. That much is clear. There are circumstances where the government has a right to suspend privacy, assuming there is enough justification, but we are yet to see any evidence the government can ensure the ongoing protections of users whilst also fulfilling its ambitions.
Destroying safety in the name of safety is a complete contradiction; such actions are not a service to citizens.