Cameron and Encryption

David Cameron put surveillance onto the agenda for the General Election earlier this week. In response to the atrocities committed in Paris against Charlie Hebdo journalists.

He asked whether:

"we want to allow a means of communication between two people which even in extremis with a signed warrant from the home secretary personally that we cannot read?…My answer to that question is no, we must not. The first duty of any government is to keep our country and our people safe."

Although the Prime Minister's words were not very clear, many people understand him as saying that if elected in May, he will legislate for a ban on secure, end-to-end encryption – the technology that protects our online communications, banking, shopping and personal data.

Popular messaging apps like WhatsApp on Android and iMessage on Apple’s iOS use end-to-end encryption as standard. This means that messages on WhatsApp and iMessage can only be read by the sender and intended recipient and not by Facebook (which owns WhatsApp) or Apple. Credit card details are nearly always sent using an encrypted connection for the same reason. You only want the intended recipient to be able to see your bank details.

David Cameron might want to force online services and software creators to introduce backdoors into their encryption so the intelligence agencies can read or listen to terrorist’s communications when they're encrypted. But if you deliberately put a backdoor in your software, criminals and foreign spies will eventually find it and have access to everyone’s communications, not just those of terrorists.

Encryption is a crucial component of the Internet that is crucial for the digital economy as well as our privacy. That’s why we were so outraged when Snowden revealed that the GCHQ and the NSA are trying to weaken it. One of the Don’t Spy on Us principles is 'A Secure Web for All.' We think that weakening the general security and privacy of communications systems erodes protections for everyone, and undermines trust in digital services.

Don’t Spy on Us organisations have spent the last few days making sure the media report the huge problems with what David Cameron has proposed.

Privacy International, Open Rights Group, Liberty, Big Brother Watch and Article 19 all put out statements criticising Cameron’s proposal. Between us we were picked up by lots of media including Sky News, BBC Radio Wales, Channel 4, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Daily Mail, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, The Verge, Vice and New Scientist.

That’s a huge amount of press coverage and as we enter the election period we’ll need to be doing a lot more. We need to ensure all the political parties get behind our calls for reform of the law to better protect our privacy and our freedom of expression. We'll be relying on your support in the general election to make this happen.

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