Rehashing time-worn arguments, law enforcement officials of member countries of the “Five-Eyes” intelligence alliance, plus India and Japan, last weekend called on companies to create backdoors to their encrypted devices and services to provide law enforcement with exceptional access. The Internet Society, Global Partners Digital, and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), members of the Steering Committee of the Global Encryption Coalition, issued the following joint statement:
The Five Eyes(+) statement is yet another in a long line of ill-considered attempts to undermine use of end-to-end encrypted communications, which would have devastating consequences to the security of people and countries worldwide. While this time the Five Eyes were joined by the governments of Japan and India, their position remains incompatible with the technical reality of encryption.
End-to-end encryption keeps communications confidential between the sender and receiver. This way, no third party can access the communications, including the company providing the service. Encryption also protects information stored on computers, cellular telephones, and other digital devices, and helps ensure that if the device is lost or stolen the information on the device is protected.
Public safety can be protected without compromising privacy and cybersecurity, but not by undermining encryption. There is no encryption backdoor that only the good guys can access, and the bad guys cannot. The same backdoor placed in a system or a device for use by law enforcement could be exploited by criminals, putting everyone on that service at greater risk of harm and reducing safety of users. Forcing companies to build backdoors or preventing them from implementing end-to-end encryption on their products or services puts the safety of all their users at greater risk.
With public health measures to combat COVID-19, the stakes are higher than ever. Individuals are increasingly reliant on Internet-based communications to conduct their daily lives. People rely on encryption to protect banking transactions, telehealth, and online purchases, in addition to connecting with friends and family. End-to-end encryption also “serves a vital purpose in repressive states to protect journalists, human rights defenders and other vulnerable people,” as noted by the Five-Eyes(+) in their statement.
At a time when people need digital security more than ever, governments should support end-to-end encryption as the most effective way to ensure the personal security of billions of people and the national security of nations around the world.