AFTER YEARS OF successive home secretaries telling anyone who'll listen that encryption is the enemy of law and order, it looks like Britain and the US are about to stress test that theory.
Sources have told both The Times and Bloomberg that the two countries will sign a security treaty this month that will require Facebook and others to hand over encrypted messages to UK law enforcement for serious cases - terrorism, paedophilia and the like.
While you won't find too many people supporting hiding places for terrorists and paedophiles, the problems with breaking encryption have always been far less black and white than David Cameron, Amber Rudd and, now, Priti Patel would like you to think.
Bluntly, there's no such thing as a secret door that only the good guys can use: if you break encryption for one person, you break it for everyone, essentially weakening everyone's security and right to privacy to catch the wrong'uns.
The reports list a couple of other interesting tidbits. Under the terms of the treaty, the US and the UK will refrain from investigating each other's citizens, and the US can't use data from UK companies in cases where the death penalty could be used. Though given most of the big players in the messaging space are US-based, it's perhaps unsurprising that didn't prove a sticking point. The US already has the McDonalds and Burger King of the messaging world in Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. It doesn't really need Wimpy.
Facebook, for its part, is currently holding strong in its defence of encryption. "We believe in the right for people to have a private conversation online," the company said in a statement to Bloomberg.
"End-to-end encryption helps protect that right and is fundamental to the value we provide to over a billion people every day. We oppose government attempts to build back doors because they would undermine the privacy and security of our users everywhere.
"We also respect the role law enforcement has in keeping people safe. Government policies like the CLOUD Act allow for companies to provide available information when we receive valid legal requests and do not require companies to build back doors."
Guess we'll be seeing where the real power lies soon enough. µ
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