Security Experts Slam Cameron Over Encryption Ban Proposal

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for promising to ban encrypted and ephemeral messaging apps if he is re-elected later this year. His comments came just a few days after the Paris terrorist attacks.

cameron
Photo: UK Department of International Development

In a speech earlier this week, Cameron pledged new surveillance powers to combat terrorist communications. “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which […] we cannot read?” he said, reports The Independent.

He did not name any particular apps but WhatsApp has come under the spotlight, which late last year put end to end encryption in place for its communications.

Cameron is promising a “comprehensive piece of legislation” that shuts down terrorists’ “safe spaces”.

The comments also follow a statement from several EU leaders that recommended greater surveillance in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Fierce Criticisms

Cameron’s comments have not been well received, with tech journalists, digital rights groups, and other politicians not only criticizing the move but also questioning its viability.

“Cameron’s plans appear dangerous, ill-thought out and scary. Having the power to undermine encryption will have consequences for everyone’s personal security,” says Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Right Group, a regular critic of surveillance and digital policies. “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.”

This is seen as the latest chapter in the push and pull between authorities and tech companies over encryption. The FBI last year criticized Apple for encrypting its devices and not allowing backdoors.

Activist Cory Doctorow has also joined the conversation and pulled apart Cameron’s claims in an op-ed for Boing Boing on Wednesday. “David Cameron doesn’t understand technology very well, so he doesn’t actually know what he’s asking for,” he writes, explaining that there’s no such thing as a backdoor that only lets the ‘good guys’ in.

In order for such measures to work, explains Doctorow, all British people would need to only use software created within the UK, a system similar to those in Russia, Syria, and Iran. You can the read the explainer in more detail here.

Meanwhile The Guardian’s James Ball suggests that such a ban would effectively shut down Britain’s ecommerce business.

“If Cameron is proposing an end to encryption in the UK, then any information sent across the internet would be open for any company, government, or script kiddie with 10 minutes “hacking” experience to access. It would spell the end of e-commerce, private online communications and any hope of the UK having any cybersecurity whatsoever.”

Independent security expert Graham Cluley said Cameron “is living in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks that this is a sensible idea”.

“[N]o it wouldn’t be possible to implement properly,” he added, while Vice didn’t mince its words when describing Cameron’s comments saying he “has made possibly the worst play in history if he’s still hoping to hook in some of that cool youth vote”.

Companies like WhatsApp and Snapchat have not yet commented in detail on the proposals.

One thought on “Security Experts Slam Cameron Over Encryption Ban Proposal

  1. I certainly don’t support terror, crime, or whatever similar; but it’s gone on since before the Internet Age, and no one says it will stop if there’s no more encryption or in fact anything Internet or computerized.

    And much of the stuff we hear about seems to go on even in countries that occasionally pull the plug on all communication at once; simply conflating the vision that “all terrorists are great-seeming guys and girls who encrypt their secret lives”, then saying therefore all good-looking respectable people must be open books to any official or else they will be heavily probed as malcontents, is a stereotype which seems to distract so many military/police from their once-capable effectiveness…several billion constantly grilled, and if a few slip through it’s due to something other than incompetence.
    For my part, I believe as does Bruce Schneier on such matters.

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