The governments of seven countries are calling on Facebook and other tech firms to do the technically impossible – to weaken encryption by giving law enforcement access to messages, whilst not reducing user safety.
The governments of the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and Japan have issued the joint statement which pleads with Facebook specifically, as well as other tech firms, to drop “end-to-end encryption policies which erode the public’s safety online”.
The governments once again raise the issue of child abusers and terrorists using encrypted services such as WhatsApp to send messages without fear of content being intercepted.
“We owe it to all of our citizens, especially our children, to ensure their safety by continuing to unmask sexual predators and terrorists operating online,” the U.K.’s home secretary, Priti Patel, said in a statement.
“It is essential that tech companies do not turn a blind eye to this problem and hamper their, as well as law enforcement’s, ability to tackle these sickening criminal acts. Our countries urge all tech companies to work with us to find a solution that puts the public’s safety first.”
Once again, the politicians seem unable to grasp one of the fundamental concepts of end-to-end encryption – that putting back doors into the encryption algorithms that allow security services to intercept messages effectively breaks the encryption.
According to the U.K. government’s statement, the “seven signatories of the international statement have made it clear that when end-to-end encryption is applied with no access to content, it severely undermines the ability of companies to take action against illegal activity on their own platforms”.
Yet, end-to-encryption with the ability for third parties to intercept content is not end-to-end encryption in any meaningful sense. Worse, by introducing back doors to allow security services to access content, it would compromise the entire encryption system.
Nevertheless, the “international intervention calls on tech companies to ensure there is no reduction in user safety when designing their encrypted services; to enable law enforcement access to content where it is necessary and proportionate; and work with governments to facilitate this.”
As has been pointed out to the governments many times before, what they are asking for is technically impossible. An open letter sent to several of the signatory countries by a coalition of international civil rights groups in 2019 made this very point.
“Proponents of exceptional access have argued that it is possible to build backdoors into encrypted consumer products that somehow let ‘good actors’ gain surreptitious access to encrypted communications, while simultaneously stopping ‘bad actors’ from intercepting those same communications,” the letter stated. “This technology does not exist.
“To the contrary, technology companies could not give governments backdoor access to encrypted communications without also weakening the security of critical infrastructure, and the devices and services upon which the national security and intelligence communities themselves rely.”
“Critical infrastructure runs on consumer products and services, and is protected by the same encryption that is used in the consumer products that proponents of backdoor access seek to undermine,” the letter adds.
Facebook is yet to respond publicly to the fresh calls to break encryption, which come a year after the U.K.’s home secretary first wrote to the company, asking it to cease using end-to-end encryption “unless they can address child safety fears”.