In wake of Paris terror attacks, UK Prime Minister proposes ending secure communication
The recent terror attacks against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo have rocked the international community. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has used the tragedy as an impetus to call for programs that could make end-to-end encryption illegal in the UK, the grounds of national security.
Cameron’s specific comments call for laws that would guarantee that there is no method of communication the government could not intercept “in extremis.” The Conservative party leader told journalists that he remained committed to strong data gathering and retention policies, noting that the government has always retained the ability to intercept letter or phone traffic, and that he viewed it as essential that the UK be able to intercept email and online traffic as well.
Cameron has been a strong supporter of the UK’s internet filtering campaigns and has pushed ISPs to adopt policies that require every single household to choose whether or not to receive a filtered service as quickly as possible, despite the well-known problems that filter systems have when it comes to blocking pornographic content versus. factual sex information and support groups for teenagers and adults alike.
Cameron’s exact comments were:
That is why, in extremis, it’s been possible to read someone’s letter. That is why, in extremis, it’s been possible to to listen in to someone’s telephone call … This cannot happen unless the home secretary personally signs a warrant… The question remains, are we going to remain a means of communication where it simply isn’t possible to do that?
The difficulty of locking down communication
The problem with Cameron’s statement is that he seems to be proposing one of two things: either the UK government will preemptively act to ban encryption standards that it cannot break, or it will require other services to only offer strong encryption services if they agree to simultaneously give the government the private keys required to decrypt the contents.
Neither of these solutions is likely to play well in the private sector, particularly in American companies doing business in Europe where they’ve already taken significant heat over their NSA ties. On a recent trip to the Netherlands, I spoke with representatives from Cisco who confirmed that their European businesses have been pressed by customers who were afraid that the US government would demand unilateral access to privileged information or trade secrets.
The UK’s Government Communications Headquarters, responsible for providing signals intelligence
Engadget points out that this could be a prelude to reviving the Draft Communications Bill, colloquially known as the Snooper’s Charter, which the UK Conservative government backed, but the Liberal Democrats staunchly opposed. That law would’ve required companies to retain information regarding users for a period of at least 12 months, but was scrapped in favor of a different, temporary law. This alternate law will expire in 2016, which is one reason why Cmaeron may be prepping alternate legislation.
Whether or not these efforts succeed will depend on the degree of opposition summoned by Britain’s non-majority party, but I think it’s safe to say we’ll see other governments pursuing similar agendas in the coming year. Despite the fact that it’s not yet proven that further signal analysis would have prevented the Charlie Hebdo attack, the events themselves are a highly effective way for government’s to expand control and monitoring in the guise of keeping people safe. The US, meanwhile, is pressing ahead with technological initiatives designed to improve its own ability to crack encryption standards.
Now read: NSA and GCHQ have broken internet encryption, created backdoors that anyone could use
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