Five Eyes Surveillance Agencies Say Encryption Is Good, Except When It Keeps Them From Looking At Stuff

from the shorter-Five-Eyes:-we-like-encryption-that-doesn't-work dept

The Five Eyes nations -- UK, US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand -- still think there's a way to create encryption backdoors (that they studiously avoid calling backdoors) that will let the good people in and the bad people out.

The backlash against government calls for backdoors has made these demands a bit more subdued in most Five Eyes countries. The UK government really doesn't seem to care and uses every terrorist attack as another reason to prevent law-abiding citizens from using secure encryption for their communications. Others members have taken a more measured approach, talking around the subject while legislative inroads continue unabated.

In the US, the periodic "going dark" discussions have taken on a (no pun intended) darkly comical tone as FBI and DOJ officials continue to claim harder nerding with solve the "problem" it has misrepresented for years.

The countries may be taking different approaches to undermining encryption, but they're all still looking to do this in the future if they can just find a way to sell it to the public without the actual nerds speaking up and ruining all their plans. The Register notes the Five Eyes surveillance partnership has delivered another ultimatum (that it won't call an ultimatum) about encrypted communications following a meeting in Australia. But it is taking care to couch its wants and desires in pretty words about the safety and security of the general public.

In an official communiqué on the confab, they claim that their inability to lawfully access encrypted content risks undermining democratic justice systems – and issue a veiled warning to industry.

The group is careful to avoid previous criticisms about their desire for backdoors and so-called magic thinking – saying that they have "no interest or intention to weaken encryption mechanisms" – and emphasise the importance of privacy laws.

But the thrust of a separate framework for their plans, the Statement of Principles on Access to Evidence and Encryption, will do little to persuade anyone that the agencies have changed their opinions.

"Privacy laws must prevent arbitrary or unlawful interference, but privacy is not absolute," the document stated.

And there it is. The only thing Five Eyes considers "absolute" is its supposed "right" to access contents of devices and communications. First, the confab talks about "mutual" cooperation, as though the tech industry is being unnecessarily resistant to undermining protections it provides to users. Five Eyes may not have the strength of conviction to actually demand encryption backdoors, but the wording here indicates what it wants is pretty much just a backdoor.

Providers of information and communications technology and services - carriers, device manufacturers or over-the-top service providers -– are subject to the law, which can include requirements to assist authorities to lawfully access data, including the content of communications. Safe and secure communities benefit citizens and the companies that operate within them.

This means key escrow or having encryption removed during transit so service providers can access contents of communications. Nothing about either plan makes users safer or less accessible to malicious parties not associated with the Five Eyes partnership.

The next section's headline makes it clear who's going to be answering to who:

Rule of law and due process are paramount

In other words, if you've got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in I'll let you in. This appeal to authority says providers must subject themselves to pestering governments, even if it means harming their entire userbase just so the government can go after a few users. The nod to due process really means nothing, what with indefinite gag orders accompanying demands for communications and data, and an ongoing refusal by government agencies to discuss surveillance means and methods in open court. As long as parallel construction is still a thing, due process will never be given the respect it deserves.

So, Five Eyes may be trying to make it sound like the countries agree encryption is a valuable protection for its collective citizens, but what it really wants is the protection to be weakened to the point law enforcement -- and anyone else not governed by the rule of law -- can access it at will. No one's saying "backdoor," but they're all thinking it very loudly.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Sep 2018 @ 7:08am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Boy, will they be surprised then they create a dragon instead, who not knowing better will inflame the lot.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.