Moderate French Presidential Candidate Suggests He May Pressure US Tech Companies Into Creating Encryption Backdoors
from the safety-through-insecurity dept
France's presidential election season has kicked in. The supposed "moderate" of the bunch -- Emmanuel Macron -- has managed to gain considerable support in the last several months. Some of this has sprung from our own recent election. Earlier this year, the candidate took digs at Trump's anti-climate change stance, stating France would welcome dejected US scientists with open arms.
He also said this, taking a shot at Trump's planned border wall.
Macron also had a thinly veiled dig at Trump’s intention to build a wall along the Mexico border, comparing it to France’s Maginot Line, which in 1940 failed to keep Nazi invaders out of France.
“I don’t want to build a wall. I can assure you there’s no wall in my program,” he told about 8,000 cheering supporters. “Can you remember the Maginot Line?”
Macron has, for the most part, refused to get swept up in post-terrorist attack hysteria. Most of his statements have stressed restraint rather than indulge in expansions of government power, as so many others are prone to do.
But something's changed recently. Macron may be the moderate who doesn't want European nations to turn into police states in reaction to terrorist attacks. But he appears to feel there's a certain amount of security/privacy that could be sacrificed to fight terrorism.
Speaking at his Paris launch, Mr Macron said he wants to legally compel social media companies to give authorities access to encrypted messages between terror suspects.
"Democratic states must have access to content exchanged between terrorists on social media and instant messaging," he said, while introducing a five-point strategy that would bring in new powers across Europe.
He said it was "no longer acceptable" for companies to insist that they have a contractual obligation to clients after offering protected communication.
He cited Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter as those he wants to have frank discussions with.
This sounds like the French counterpart to the "adult conversations" FBI Director James Comey wants to have with tech companies about encryption. Of course, in Comey's case, the "conversation" doesn't necessarily even have to include tech companies. He's fine with legislation or All Writs Orders or whatever for the time being -- anything that doesn't involve actually speaking to anyone who understands encryption.
It's tougher to get a read on Macron's desires and intentions. He hasn't spent months hammering away this issue or claiming terrorists are staying ahead of law enforcement by using Whatsapp or iPhones or spiral-bound notebooks. But what he's suggesting is rather breathtaking: an EU-wide undermining of encryption. If tech companies are offering encryption, they're going to have craft backdoors or start holding onto users' encryption keys. The other alternative would be to pull themselves out of the European market, which seems like the least likely route they will take.
Even if elected, there's no guarantee the country's legislators will comply with Macron's wishes. Despite recent terrorist attacks on French soil, no further action has been taken to undermine encryption, despite periodic calls to do so being issued by more panicky members of the French government.
Macron's pronouncement seems at odds with his refusal to be cowed by terrorists or be pushed towards sacrificing the public's rights and privileges on the altar of national security. No further details were offered by Macron to explain this stance, but presumably there will be much more discussion of this surprising announcement in the near future.