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UK PM Promises To Outlaw Encrypted Communications

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

UK PM David Cameron has promised to outlaw electronic forms of communications that cannot be intercepted by the intelligence agencies if his party won the General Elections in May. Speaking at an event in East Midlands a few days after the French terror attacks, Mr. Cameron said that such a move would be totally right for a modern and liberal democratic country like Great Britain. If the Prime Minister’s proposal does see the light of the day, a lot of messaging apps that rely on encrypted data to protect their messages from snooping, including popular apps like Whatsapp, iMessage, Snapchat and FaceTime; could be banned within the country.

Speaking at the event, Cameron stressed the need for stronger laws against secure communications. While he did not mention encryption per se, he did ask the audience whether they want to allow a form of communication that cannot be interpreted even if there was a signed warrant against it from the home secretary. He also mentioned that extremists and terrorists are using such forms of communications to plot attacks against the country on a daily basis. Furthermore, he added that with the new legislation, the government would be able to monitor such communications and potentially thwart terror attacks.

Apart from seeking ban on encrypted forms of communications, Cameron has also pledged to resurrect the Snooper’s Charter. The legislation, which was dumped last year in the favor of Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, would make it mandatory for the service providers to retain metadata of subscribers’ communications for a period of one year.

Justifying the demand for the new legislation, Prime Minister said that the terror attacks in France have highlighted the magnitude of threat faced by the European countries. He also added that security and intelligence agencies of the country needed to have sufficient powers to keep the British citizens safe from terror threats.

Prime Minister’s statements echoes the sentiments of the intelligence agencies. Andrew Parker, head of the security service MI5, had commented after Paris attacks that interception of communications is an important part of fight against terrorism. He had also warned that changes in technology were making it increasingly difficult for the intelligence agencies to keep a tab on the communications of extremists. Once the intelligence agencies lose track of what the terrorists are saying to one another, the ability to mitigate threats is drastically reduced.

Blocking encrypted communications within UK would lead to several unintended consequences. For instance, it could expose corporate data to hacking threats and cyber-attacks and make computer networks within the country less secure. The move could also force providers of anonymity services to move their operations out of the country. For general population, blocking of secure communications would make web browsing and VOIP services less secure. The government’s move would also lead to a situation where people would not be able to share secret information without someone snooping on them. Overall, Cameron’s proposal would have a devastating impact on IT services based in the UK and would dampen business sentiment across the board.

February 17, 2015

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