The so called Five Eyes government consortium, of which the United States is a part of, has published a statement urging tech companies like Apple, WhatsApp, and Google to build backdoors to their encryption for government and police use. The statement was published by the Australian government’s Department of Home Affairs with all five of the participating governments – United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – endorsing it.
The statement starts with a clear message that the consortium of governments understands that security and privacy are critical to the digital economy but that encryption services create havens for criminal activities to happen without these governments, or even the tech company who makes the device or service, able to get beyond that encryption.
The crux of the statement is these governments want tech companies to provide a way for them and law enforcement to get beyond the encryption so that criminal communications and activities can be monitored.
However, the increasing use and sophistication of certain encryption designs present challenges for nations in combatting serious crimes and threats to national and global security. Many of the same means of encryption that are being used to protect personal, commercial and government information are also being used by criminals, including child sex offenders, terrorists and organized crime groups to frustrate investigations and avoid detection and prosecution.
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.
Obviously there are a lot of challenges with this type of backdoor ranging from blatant abuse to the question of what activities become criminal that warrant the sniffing of those communications.
While these Five Eye governments continually make these types of requests of tech companies, so far, none have capitulated.