Five Eyes plans to crack down on encryption, raising privacy concerns

3 Sep 2018

Image: ms photographie/Shutterstock

An ongoing debate around encryption, privacy and crime is set to be stoked further with the latest announcement from Five Eyes.

In 2016, the FBI successfully broke into the iPhone of the San Bernardino mass shooter, sparking a heated conversation around the right to privacy and law enforcement’s need for information to apprehend criminals. Encryption of devices and apps is a major talking point on both sides.

The conflict between encryption and law enforcement has remained in the news ever since and the latest meeting between the Five Eyes members will ensure this continues. Government representatives from the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand met in Australia last week to discuss cybersecurity and counterterrorism strategy.

Encryption controversy continues

The five-nation group issued a stark message: “Privacy is not absolute.” The statement read: “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.”

It cited the growing complexity of encryption technology as a problem for law enforcement. “Currently, there are some challenges arising from the increasing use and sophistication of encryption technology, in relation to which further assistance is needed.”

A clash of ideologies

While law enforcement bodies and governments argue that they need access to encrypted communications to effectively fight crime, privacy advocates and technology firms are reluctant to open so-called ‘backdoors’ into encrypted communications. The latter groups say this is often not possible and, where it is achievable, it presents security and privacy risks for all users.

Five Eyes is calling on companies to voluntarily build features into their hardware and software to allow shortcuts for law enforcement officers and government agencies.

The group added that if it does not see cooperation, there may be consequences. “Should governments continue to encounter impediments to lawful access to information necessary to aid the protection of the citizens of our countries, we may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures to achieve lawful access solutions.”

The Five Eyes nations also issued a statement on the illicit use of online spaces, and its strategy to counter this issue. It called on tech firms to develop solutions that prevent inappropriate content from ever being uploaded.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects