US-led ‘Five Eyes’ intel alliance says end-to-end encryption creates terrorism & child abuse threats
The “Five Eyes” intelligence chiefs are demanding backdoor access to encrypted messaging apps, arguing Big Tech should give up users’ privacy to combat terrorism and child predators.
“Tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can obtain access to data,” the Five Eyes – an alliance of intelligence agency directors from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – declared in an official statement on Tuesday following their annual two-day security summit held in London.
This year’s theme – “emerging threats” – saw the smorgasbord of spooks brainstorming possibilities for eavesdropping on popular messaging apps like WhatsApp without rendering the encryption completely worthless, an idea which was central to last year’s meeting as well. This time, the intelligence agencies invited representatives from the tech industry to “collaborate” on a “set of voluntary principles” for interfacing with law enforcement.
“Ministers stressed that law enforcement agencies’ efforts to investigate and prosecute the most serious crimes would be hampered if the industry carries out plans to implement end-to-end encryption without the necessary safeguards,” the UK Home Office wrote in its summary of the Five Eyes roundtable with tech executives.
Tech companies and even some senior intelligence agency figures have insisted that placing a backdoor in an encrypted platform makes that platform less secure for everyone – including government entities in need of a secure channel for their own communications – and opens the door to exploitation by criminals and (of course) foreign intelligence services. Former NSA Director Mike Rogers called encryption “foundational to the future” and dismissed the talk of doing away with it as “a waste of time” in a 2016 Atlantic Council event.
But the “encryption problem” has only worsened since last year, with Facebook poised to roll out end-to-end encryption for its Messenger service’s one-billion-plus users. WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, is already encrypted. And other apps like Signal and Telegram are growing in popularity, much to the frustration of intelligence operatives reduced to pressing their noses against the digital glass.
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The intelligence agencies leaned heavily on children’s safety, highlighting the ever-present threat of pedophiles and child pornography online as proof that encryption is harmful and has to be abolished.
Tech companies were advised to “consider the impacts to the safety of children… when developing their systems and services and deploying encryption,” the Five Eyes warned in their official post-conference statement. “Countering Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse” was the focus of a “digital industry roundtable” that included representatives from Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Snap, Twitter, and Roblox and focused on developing a set of “voluntary principles” to expedite law enforcement activity against child abusers.
Aside from the encryption struggle, the Five Eyes also discussed the security risks inherent in 5G (“We recognize the need for a rigorous risk-based evaluation of a range of factors which may include, but not be limited to, control by foreign governments”), the security risks inherent in widespread adoption and commercialization of drones, and – lest anyone forget – the importance of maintaining the integrity of the democratic process free from foreign discord-sowers and discourse-manipulators.