The spread of COVID-19 has forced people around the world to stay at home. Those who are fortunate enough to have strong internet connections at home endeavor to stay in touch with colleagues, friends, family and businesses. We work, consult with doctors, engage in financial transactions, and help children learn, all online. Technology makes it possible for us to do this, and encryption is what makes it possible for us to trust that we can do this privately.
But encryption is under attack in many places in the world. Governments are seeking to compel companies to weaken communications security by building in mechanisms for law enforcement to gain access to the plaintext of encrypted communications.
Australia recently adopted legislation that could be interpreted to require communications service providers to build in backdoor access for law enforcement.
In Brazil, judges ordered internet service providers to block WhatsApp, a messaging service that uses end-to-end encryption, in order to pressure WhatsApp to comply with law enforcement demands for the communications content relevant to pending investigations. Because WhatsApp is encrypted end-to-end, WhatsApp servers do not have access to such content.
India is considering rules to require companies to trace back to their origin false rumors spread by encrypted messaging apps. Such a requirement would make it impossible for such instant messaging apps to operate in India unless its privacy and security features were weakened.
The chief law enforcement officers of each of the Five Eyes countries (U.S., U.K., Canada, New Zealand and Australia) issued a Statement of Principles that threatens legislative, enforcement and other measures if governments continue to face impediments in accessing information protected by encryption.
If an attack on encryption in any country that constitutes a major market is successful, companies will face the unenviable choice of foregoing that market, or altering their service to privilege law enforcement access and thereby reduce communications security for everyone on a worldwide basis.
Responding to such initiatives is why CDT is proud to be joining more than 30 other civil society organizations in launching the Global Encryption Coalition, and excited to join the Internet Society and Global Partners Digital on the Coalition’s Steering Committee. Working together with a membership that will grow to include companies and technologists, we will help activists on the ground in key areas where it is under threat, like Australia, India and Brazil, to beat back proposals that would weaken encryption. We plan to deliver expert analysis, global engagement, and a megaphone to such local efforts.
Maintaining communications security by protecting encryption is a global imperative, requiring global engagement and a Global Encryption Coalition. That is why we are organizing launch events on May 14 in five places around the globe. The events demonstrate how encryption helps people face the challenges that the current global health crisis has created. We encourage you to sign into one or more of those events and to lend your voice to the protection of encryption everywhere it is at risk.