The UK government is pressing ahead with plans to introduce legislation this year which will ban the use of encrypted communications, the contents of which can not be viewed by the security services. Undoubtedly terrorists and other criminals who use encrypted communications stand a better chance of evading state surveillance than those who don’t. However, the suggestion that this is a good reason to ban service providers from properly securing communications is misguided.
Banning encryption will achieve nothing other than putting us all at greater risk. Terrorists and criminals will adapt and find ways to circumvent the law, and meanwhile the rest of us will be left with no secure way to communicate. There is no way to allow access to encrypted communications for law enforcement without weakening such communications for everyone. Any weakness added for the convenience of the authorities will eventually be exploited by criminals. Any system which controls the collection of and access to communications data would itself be vulnerable to attack.
When David Cameron talks about denying terrorists “safe spaces“, what he really means is he wants to deny private spaces to everyone. He wants to prevent you from keeping information from the government for any reason, and he’s willing to make you less safe in the process. This would also set a precedent for the governments of other countries to enact similar restrictions, with potentially deadly consequences for political dissidents in some parts of the world.
As a service provider we fully appreciate the need to prevent our services being used for nefarious purposes. We are proactive in screening new clients to prevent fraud, we perform regular scans to look for compromised accounts, and we fully investigate all reports of abuse that we receive. We’ve cooperated with law enforcement when there was evidence of unlawful activity, and we’ve denied requests from law enforcement when there wasn’t. There is a balance to be struck between securing our systems against attack and preventing those systems being used by criminals. The Snoopers’ Charter strikes us as unbalanced.
There are numerous technical reasons why these proposals won’t work. However, this issue is about more than whether or not we could do this. It’s about whether we should do this. It’s about whether it’s right to deny privacy to everyone and whether we want our governments to have access to our communications en masse. We believe this would be a mistake. We strongly believe in the principles of free speech and the right to privacy. These go hand in hand, and these proposals would diminish the right to privacy and thereby harm free speech. If you’re a UK citizen please make sure your MP knows your views, and please consider supporting the Open Rights Group today by becoming a member and by signing their petition to stop the Snoopers’ Charter.