Interpol Delays Encryption Condemnation After Opposition

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Criticism from civil liberties groups and tech firms halts Interpol’s plan to condemn spread of encryption

The issue of law enforcement’s hostility to encryption has been raised again after Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organisation, halted its criticism of the technology.

Interpol had been planning to condemn the spread of strong encryption earlier this month, but has now delayed this criticism after objections by tech companies and civil liberties advocates. This is according to Reuters, which cited two people familiar with the matter.

Last year the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) listed encryption as one of the technologies making criminals’ jobs easier, as it makes it more difficult for law enforcement organisations to “collect intelligence and evidence”.

data encryption

Delayed criticism

Two weeks ago, Interpol’s group on crimes against children had discussed a resolution on the topic put forward by the FBI at the group’s conference in Lyon.

It was widely reported at the time that at the close of the conference, the leaders told attendees they would release a statement calling on tech companies to design products that allow governments to “obtain access to data in a readable and useable format.”

Essentially, a backdoor for encryption.

Reuters saw a draft resolution of the encryption condemnation, which it said echoed recent statements by law enforcement in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia that blamed end-to-end encryption for permitting sex crimes against children to go undetected.

Conference organisers were quoted by Reuters as telling some who had attended that they were surprised by the opposition to the planned encryption criticism and delayed putting out a statement while they reconsidered, those people said.

Interpol’s press office, meanwhile, reportedly said that the organisation’s top leadership had not planned to issue anything on the matter.

Facebook encryption

Facebook had been singled out of late after announcing plans to fully encrypt its Messenger chats by default (WhatsApp messages are already encrypted).

In August the US Department of Justice reportedly pressured Facebook to break the encryption in its Messenger app, so law enforcement could listen to a suspect’s voice conversations in a criminal probe.

But in October Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended his decision to encrypt the company’s messaging services, after an open letter was signed by the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, US Attorney General Bill Barr, acting US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton.

Essentially that letter raised concerns that Facebook’s plan to build end-to-end encryption into its messaging apps would prevent law enforcement agencies from searching for child sexual exploitation, terrorism, and election meddling.

Data attempts

Other tech firms have also reported more attempts by authorities to access people’s data.

Earlier this year Apple revealed a steep rise in national security requests from the US government – a 20 percent increase from first half of 2017.

But this issue is not only happening in the United States. Russia for example earlier this year closed down access to the encrypted Telegram app.

That decision was taken by Russian authorities after the app refused to give Russian state security services access to its users’ secret messages by handing over encryption keys used to scramble the messages.

But despite the best efforts of Russian authorities to ban Telegram, the majority of users in Russia are still apparently able to access the app.

Iran has also begun to disrupt certain features of Telegram.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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