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Europe might have actually done something right on telecoms

More often than not, we are giving some stick to our European overseers, but in fairness to the bureaucrats they are heading the right direction in combatting the worry trend of encryption back-doors.

Jamie Davies

June 19, 2017

3 Min Read
Europe might have actually done something right on telecoms

More often than not, we are giving some stick to our European overseers, but in fairness to the bureaucrats they are heading the right direction regarding the worrying trend of encryption back-doors.

The conversation on how to ensure public safety has taken a slightly worrying turn for privacy rights in recent months, as government around the world put forward ideas on how to create back-doors in encryption software. It’s a controversial area, as technology companies should be held accountable in the battle against terrorism, but creating back-doors in the software for intelligence agencies to use weakens security features and paves the way for abuse.

The proposed amendment to Article 7 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights covering user data and privacy, is as follows:

“The providers of electronic communications services shall ensure that there is sufficient protection in place against unauthorised access or alterations to the electronic communications data, and that the confidentiality and safety of the transmission are also guaranteed by the nature of the means of transmission used or by state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption of the electronic communications data.”

“Furthermore, when encryption of electronic communications data is used, decryption, reverse engineering or monitoring of such communications shall be prohibited. Member States shall not impose any obligations on electronic communications service providers that would result in the weakening of the security and encryption of their networks and services.”

Essentially, writing back-doors into encryption software, to by-pass the security feature, will be illegal, should the amendments be accepted.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen France and Germany have secret meetings to limit the power of end-to-end encryption, US President Donald Trump throw numerous wobbly’s and politicians in the UK using fear-mongering tactics to justify the removal of our right to privacy.

As mentioned before, technology companies and telcos should assist the government in improving safety, but there has to be a line in the sand. Once that back-door is created, there is no going back. Hackers will search for the weakened section of the perimeter, and if experience is anything to go by, they’ll find it.

Following recent attacks in the UK there were reports UK operators would have to provide real-time information on citizens in certain situations. This is very much a draft proposal, but operators would be obliged to build back-doors. Details on justification for using this back-door or how intelligence agencies would be held accountable, are a bit thin on the ground, but it is certainly a worrying step away from data privacy.

The amendment proposed by the European Parliament would effectively end any ambitions its member states have in creating a back-door in the software. The proposed changes are not likely to be seen for quite a while, as there will likely be a number of legal challenges to the rule change, but it is at least a positive step by the bureaucrats in preserving the right to privacy in the European Union.

It would also be worth noting that the UK would not be held accountable to any changes made by the European Parliament, as Brexit removes the country from the clutches of Europe. That said, it would be an interesting step for the UK to take if it wants to remain in the good books of the pro-data privacy trading block.

If you would like to check out the rest of the proposed amendments, you can follow this link.

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