The tide may be turning against encryption in Europe

Even though backdoors are a bad idea, fear may drive countries to approve them

hidden backdoor
Credit: MsSaraKelly

In the wake of increased terror incidents Europe is starting to look seriously at ways to read encrypted messages that officials there say are instrumental to carrying out attacks.

France and Germany apparently are teaming up to formulate a plan for enabling law enforcement there to read encrypted communications, according to a report in Le Monde. But it’s unclear exactly what the two countries will discuss.

France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve says an international effort is needed to deal with the issue and he plans to meet with his German counterpart later this month to discuss it.

This represents a shift for France, whose legislature earlier this year rejected backdoor laws because it would leave unprotected the personal data of individuals, hurt economic activity and undermine the reputations of the companies that manufactured the technology to enable decryption.

This new push comes soon after terror attacks in France and Germany earlier this summer, and is part of a pattern followed in other countries: An horrific incident is followed by a call for more access to secret communications – which inevitably means backdoors that ultimately weaken encryption.

U.S. law enforcement officials made a concerted effort for similar decryption capabilities earlier this year after the murders of 14 people in San Bernardino, by famously asking Apple to decrypt a terrorist’s iPhone, but the issue has lost prominence in the news. A similar high-profile push has not materialized push after the murders of 49 people in an Orlando nightclub in June, although FBI Director James Comey has kept up a steady drumbeat. Perhaps the distraction of the U.S. presidential campaign has blunted coverage of the issue.

The question is still alive in the U.K. where legislation known as the Snooper’s Charter is still being debated, but which would allow restricting end-to-end encryption.

The bottom line is that the issue does not go away and backdoors come closer to reality each time another terrorist attack succeeds. At some point in desperation lawmakers may agree to allow these backdoors, despite the clear widespread damage they would do to online business, corporate intellectual property and privacy.

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