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UK government admits 'Snooper's Charter' would allow it to ban end-to-end encryption

Theresay May, the UK's new PM, is a strong proponent of digital spying

The UK government has publicly admitted that parts of the Investigatory Powers Bill (IPB), better known as the 'Snooper’s Charter', would allow it to force companies to ban end-to-end encryption.

In what may be viewed as a huge assault on the public’s privacy, not to mention digital security, the government would ask internet and communication service providers to “develop and maintain a technical capability to remove encryption that has been applied to communications or data”. As one member of the House of Lords put it, when debating the IPB, this essentially means that companies may not use end-to-end encryption, and could leave the public at risk, not to mention setting a supremely dangerous precedent.

Lord Strasburger explained:

The implication of what [the government] is saying is that no one may develop end-to-end encryption. One feature of end-to-end encryption is that the provider cannot break it; encryption is private between the users at both ends. He [the minister] seems to be implying that providers can use only encryption which can be broken and therefore cannot be end to end, so the next version of the Apple iPhone would in theory become illegal.

That’s because developing the technical capability to break strong encryption is a costly and problematic endeavor. So in essence, the government aims to force companies to offer weaker encryption and develop backdoors in their services. This is exactly what privacy and advocacy groups like the EFF warned about months ago, when the FBI was trying to force Apple to hack its devices.

As usual the powers granted by the Snooper’s Charter are claimed to be in the service of national security and the fight against terrorism. Earl Howe, minister of state for defence, argued that “there will be circumstances where it is reasonably practicable for a company to build in a facility to de-encrypt the contents of communication.”

But of course, the wider implications of such demands, by a democratic Western government no less, are rarely brought up by their proponents. However, Baroness Hayter attempted to explain:

The problem is whether the Government would ever require a company to engineer such access, enforcing the company to create a model which, if then followed by other nations with perhaps less security than ours, would lead to a lowering of standards.

Her arguments bring to mind recent cases where authoritarian regimes such as Turkey, Russia and China, have demanded they have access to user data and banned companies from using strong encryption which the government couldn’t bypass.

Unfortunately, the Investigatory Powers Bill, like other important legislation around the world, is getting little attention while it passes through the legislative process with most of the public being unaware of the importance of encryption and strong digital safeguards.

Source: The Register | Image via Tes

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