The right to private communications is not on the agenda for the next Conservative government
Tue 13 Jan 2015
In a speech in the Midlands yesterday Prime Minister David Cameron pledged, in effect, to ban encryption within the United Kingdom if his government is returned to power.
Insisting that there should be “No means of communication [which] we cannot read”, the Prime Minister cited the recent attacks in Paris, including the Charlie Hebdo shootings, as justification for a move which he himself admits is “very intrusive”.
Cameron is the second high UK official to capitalise on the Paris deaths in order to attempt to gain traction for a diminution of the rights of the British to communicate securely with each other via such popular systems as WhatsApp. Last week MI5 chief Andrew Parker did likewise.
Making encrypted communications illegal in the UK would require changes in at least the default settings of Apple’s iOs8 operating system, which uses client-side – or ‘zero-knowledge’ – encryption to store data in a manner that is not recoverable by Apple, would effectively ban the use of the Tor protocol, and also the use of the surprisingly robust PGP email encryption technique – which is still living up to its legendary status of ‘the closest you’re likely to get to military-grade encryption’.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 has made the hoarding of encryption keys an imprisonable crime since the section pertaining to encryption keys was made active in 2007, leading to three prosecutions and one imprisonment, so you can already fall foul of the law by withholding the key to a device under investigation. Yet Cameron’s promise is not that the keys to our data and communications will be more easily accessible by UK authorities, but that the doors will be removed entirely – and this is one electoral promise you can count on: the ‘IP address matching’ amendment to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill 2014-15, currently going through Parliament, will effectively identify you personally to the authorities, on an ad hoc basis, via your devices, if ratified.
As for party response to the announcement, Labour leader Ed Miliband acknowledges the need to keep abreast of new technology, but speaks of the “right way” of approaching the matter, ensuring the protection of basic liberties.
A little further away from the fence, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg joins the party’s Civil Liberties Minister Simon Hughes in the condemnation of any such ‘blanket powers’.
We have been following the regulated dispensation of press releases and impromptu conferences from US and UK politicians and major officials ever since iOs8 began to furrow state brows last autumn – if you want our latest round-up of the list, try here. The primary theme of this stream of opinion follows Cameron’s speech closely enough in each case – by citing terrorism as the reason we must all surrender our privacy or right to privacy at the whim of UK authorities. An outcome which promises a complete victory for the ‘terrorist’ cause; the clue, as ever, is in the name.