Home Secretary Amber Rudd today stressed that she is not in favour of banning encryption in its entirely but doesn’t want terrorists to find secret places to communicate with each other.
Rudd also claimed that the government is making good progress with companies who have put in place end-to-end encryption.
Following the Manchester terrorist attack, Rudd had lashed out at social media apps including WhatsApp which she said were providing ‘a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.’ She had also termed usage of end-to-end encryption by social media firms as “completely unacceptable”.
Earlier this week, The Sun also reported that the government is planning to introduce, before the Parliament, a series of new orders collectively titled Technical Capability Notices, after the elections are over. The new orders will allow the government to obtain encrypted messages and content from companies as and when required. The report suggested that UK firms will have to create encryption backdoors to allow government access to such data.
Reports on the government planning to bypass encryption combined with Rudd’s statements gave rise to concerns that the government may ban encryption in its entirety. However, Rudd today made it clear that she harboured no such intentions.
“What I have always said is the internet provides an incredibly important place for people to do business, encryption is important for banking, for everything else as you say. But we need to do better to stop terrorists being able to use it,” she said on the Andrew Marr show.
“We are making good progress with the firms that have put in place end-to-end encryption. Some of them are being more constructive than others, but we will continue to build on that. The area that I am most concerned about is the internet companies who are continuing to publish the hate publications, the hate material that is contributing to radicalising people in this country,” she added.
While the fact that the government still considers encryption as an important tool to ensure privacy is a relief, Rudd’s statements also make it clear that the government is going ahead with its plans on forcing companies to create encryption backdoors.
Both UK-based enterprises, as well as multinational entities which hold customer data in the UK, have resisted previous attempts by the government to bypass encrypted customer data, fearing that such backdoors will also be exploited by hackers and enemy states.
A document leaked by the Open Rights Group has also laid bare the UK government’s attempts to utilize new surveillance techniques to track as many as 6,000 people at any given time. As per the draft Investigatory Powers (Technical Capability) Regulations 2017, the Government aims to ‘remove electronic protection applied by or on behalf of the telecommunications operator to the communications or data, or to permit the person to whom the warrant is addressed to remove such electronic protection.’
At the same time, the draft bill proposes to empower the government to ‘provide and maintain the capability to simultaneously intercept, or obtain secondary data from, communications relating to up to 1 in 10,000 of the persons to whom the telecommunications operator provides the telecommunications service to which the communications relate.’