“Encryption is essential to the preservation of freedom of opinion, expression, dissent, and democratic engagement.”
At the end of June, the interior ministers, immigration ministers, and attorneys general of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance met in Ottawa and discussed terrorism, access to data and encryption, among other urgent global issues.
The Five Eyes is a surveillance partnership of key intelligence agencies from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The meetup’s final communiqué suggests what might turn out to be a made-in-Canada global encryption backdoor. It claimed that “encryption can severely undermine public safety efforts by impeding lawful access to the content of communications during investigations into serious crimes, including terrorism.”
Soon after the meeting, 83 organizations and individuals urged the leaders of the Five Eyes agencies and their governments to defend strong encryption.
“In light of public reports about this week’s meeting between officials from your agencies, the undersigned individuals and organizations write to emphasize the importance of national policies that encourage and facilitate the development and use of strong encryption,” the rights defenders stated in a letter dated June 30th. “We call on you to respect the right to use and develop strong encryption and commit to pursuing any additional dialogue in a transparent forum with meaningful public participation.”
Read the signatories’ full letter here.
Encryption is a method of protecting data and communications from unintended eyes, including those of criminals and authoritarian regimes. Encryption ensures that the communication you sent across the internet is turned in pure gobbledygook, almost impossible for unintended recipients to unscramble. Only you and the intended recipient, who must have a “decryption key” or password, can make sense of the communication. According to New Scientist, anyone who intercepts encrypted communication “would require a nearly impossible amount of computing power and time to work out the contents of the message.”
The following quotes are from the representatives of some of the rights defenders who signed the letter to the Five Eyes governments:
“Massive surveillance operations conducted by the Five Eyes partnership inherently put the human rights of people around the world at risk. The joint communique commits to human rights and the rule of law, but provides no detail as to how these powerful, secretive spy agencies plan to live up to those commitments. We call for public participation and meaningful accountability now; otherwise, those commitments are empty.” – Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now
“Our political leaders are putting people around the world at greater risk of crime when they call for greater powers to weaken our digital security. Security experts and cryptographers are as united in their views on encryption as scientists are on climate change. Politicians need to listen to them before they make decisions that could put us all at risk.” – Jim Killock, ORG
“Attempting to undermine the free use and development of strong encryption technology is not only technologically misguided, it is politically irresponsible. Both law enforcement and intelligence agencies have access to more data—and more powerful analytical tools—than ever before in human history. Measures that undermine the efficacy or public availability of encryption will never be proportionate when weighed against their profound threat to global human rights: encryption is essential to the preservation of freedom of opinion, expression, dissent, and democratic engagement. Without it, meaningful privacy, trust, and safety in the digital sphere would not be possible.” — Lex Gill, Research Fellow, Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs
“Encryption protects billions of ordinary people worldwide from criminals and authoritarian regimes. Agencies charged with protecting national security shouldn’t be trying to undermine a cornerstone of security in the digital age.” – Cynthia Wong, Senior Internet Researcher, Human Rights Watch
“Encryption is used by governments, businesses, and citizens alike to secure communications, safeguard personal information, and conduct business online. Deliberately weakening encryption threatens the integrity of governance, the safety of online commerce, and the interpersonal relationships that compose our daily lives. We must not sacrifice our core values to the threat of terrorism: the solution to such threats must entail better protecting our basic rights and the technologies that advance them.” — Christopher Parsons, Research Associate and Managing Director of the Telecom Transparency Project at the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs
“Calls to undermine encryption in the name of ‘national security’ are fundamentally misguided and dangerous. Encryption is a necessary and critical tool enabling individual privacy, a free media, online commerce and the operations of organisations of all types, including of course government agencies. Undermining encryption therefore represents a serious threat to national security in its own right, as well as threatening basic human rights and the enormous economic and social benefits that the digital revolution has brought for people across the globe.” – Jon Lawrence, EFA
“Assurances of strong encryption not only benefit civil liberties and privacy, but the economy as well. A vibrant and dynamic Internet economy is only possible if consumers and users trust the environment in which they’re conducting business. While law enforcement and intelligence services have legitimate concerns over their ability to access data, those concerns need to be balanced with the benefits encryption provides to average users transacting in cyberspace. A strong Internet economy, buttressed by the trust that encryption produces, is vital to national interests around the globe. National policies should support and defend, not weaken and abridge, access to encryption.” – Ryan Hagemann, Niskanen Center
“The strength of the tools and techniques that our government and members of the public have and use to secure our nation and protect our privacy is of significant public interest. Transparency and accountability around a nation’s policy regarding the use of encryption is a bedrock importance in a democracy, particularly given the potential of backdoors to put billions of online users at greater risk for intrusion, compromise of personal data, and breaches of massive consumer or electoral databases. The democracies in the ‘Five Eyes’ should be open and accountable to their publics about not only the existence of these discussions but their content, removing any gap between what is being proposed and the consent of those governed by those policies.” – Alex Howard, Sunlight Foundation
“Encryption is a vital tool for journalists, activists, and everyone whose lives and work depend on using the internet securely. It allows reporters to protect their confidential sources from reprisal, and to fearlessly pursue stories that powerful actors don’t want told. It offers protection from mortal danger for dissidents trying to communicate under repressive regimes. Undermining the integrity of encryption puts lives at risk, and runs directly counter to the mandate of the Five Eyes Signals Intelligence agencies to keep their citizens safe.” – Tom Henheffer, Executive Director, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
“The answer to concerns on ‘going dark’ is to help bring our law enforcement and counterterrorism officials into the future, not send encryption to the past. We hope to hear back from the Five Eyes that they were looking for how to adapt to digital security measures, not break them to the detriment of everyday Americans and our national security. As Five Eyes leaders work on a strategy to protect against cyberattacks, it is important to have a transparent process and cooperation between governments and civil society without stifling innovation or weakening other parts of security.” – Austin Carson, Executive Director, TechFreedom
“Strong encryption is essential for modern society. Broken technologies undermine commerce, security, and human rights.” – Jeramie Scott, EPIC
“Any attempt by the U.K. government to attack encrypted messengers would be nothing less than an attack on the right to a private conversation. Far from making the internet safer, by undermining the technology that protects everything from our bank accounts to our private conversations, governments around the world are putting us all at risk. Transparency is vital around any coordinated plans that could jeopardize both our security and our rights.” – Silkie Carlo, Policy Officer, Liberty
“We increasingly rely on a secure internet for work, personal relationships, commerce, and politics. While we support justifiable lawful intercept with appropriate oversight, we don’t think we should be seriously weakening the security of the internet to achieve it. Attempts to weaken encryption will do more damage to our society and our freedom than the possible threats it’s meant to be protecting us from. “ – Thomas Beagle, Chairperson, NZ Council for Civil Liberties
“All sensitive personal data must be encrypted as a matter of human rights to privacy, especially health data, i.e., all information about our minds and bodies, wherever it exists. Today health data is the most valuable personal data of all, the most attractive to hackers, and the most sold and traded by the massive, hidden global health data broker industry.” – Dr. Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights
“We lock our devices for good reason. Introducing backdoors weakens security and violates our right to privacy. The very existence of backdoors means unwelcome guests will come knocking.” — Linda Sherry, Director of National Priorities, Consumer Action
This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. No permission is required for non-commercial reuse and distribution. However, you’re strictly required to cite the original source in accordance with the terms of the license.