Government Wants To Be Able To ‘Crack’ Encrypted Messages

David Cameron © Frederic Legrand Shutterstock

Prime Minister David Cameron calls for powers to allow spies to access the content of encrypted communications in fight against terror

Prime Minister David Cameron wants British intelligence agencies to be able to monitor the encrypted communications of terror suspects and has suggested such legislation would be introduced if the Conservatives win a majority in this year’s General Election.

According to The Guardian, Cameron told an audience in Nottingham that the government would deny terrorists “safe space” on the Internet following the terrorist attacks on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week.

The planned legislation would not only allow spies to gain access to data about communications, but also the ability to crack the encryption used by many services so they could view the actual content of these messages.

Snoopers’ Charter revival

david cameron cheery grin wve © Featureflash ShutterstockThe laws could incorporate some parts of the controversial Communications Data Bill, also known as the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ which, which was blocked by the Conservatives’ Liberal Democrat coalition partners in 2012 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

Any interception would require the approval of the home or foreign secretary but it is feared that services like WhatsApp and iMessage could be banned in the UK if the government cannot gain access to them. Snapchat has also been mentioned as a threat due to the fact that messages ‘self-destruct’.

In any case, new legislation will be needed at some point as the emergency Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) bill, which requires telcos to store and provide access to communications records for 12 months, is due to expire in December 2016.

The Snoopers’ Charter, DRIP and RIPA have all proved controversial and faced opposition from privacy campaigners who say such legislation is open to misuse.

Opposition grows

Cameron’s Deputy, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, is reported to have scoffed at Cameron’s remarks, suggesting it was hypocritical for the Prime Minister to claim to be standing up for freedom of speech following the Paris attacks and then clamping down on freedoms.

Indeed, it has been alleged that legislation such as RIPA has been misused by police in attempts identify journalist’s sources.

The Open Rights Group has also criticised Cameron’s plans, urging against “kneejerk” reactions that infringe the freedoms of citizens and threaten democracy.

“Cameron’s plans appear dangerous, ill-thought out and scary,” said Executive Director Jim Killock. “Having the power to undermine encryption will have consequences for everyone’s personal security. It could affect not only our personal communications but also the security of sensitive information such as bank records, making us all more vulnerable to criminal attacks.”

The issue of state snooping has scarcely been out of the headlines following the revelations in 2013 by the whislteblower Edward Snowden about mass surveillance operations carried out by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and GCHQ in the UK.

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