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UK Gov: IP Bill could give Home Secretary power to ban end-to-end encryption

Posted by Sam Frances on Monday, July 18th, 2016 at 17:25

The Investigatory Powers Bill could give the Home Secretary the power to undermine end-to end encryption, according to a government spokesperson.

Speaking during the Committee stage debate in the House of Lords last week, Minister of State for Defence Earl Howe said:

Depending on the individual company and circumstances of the case, it may be entirely sensible for the Government to work with them to determine whether it would be reasonably practicable to take steps to develop and maintain a technical capability to remove encryption that has been applied to communications or data.

Earl Howe made this statement in opposition to an amendment to the Bill, which would “make[] it explicit that a company would be required to remove the electronic protection only where it had the current capacity to do so and that it should not have to engineer it”.

On the one hand, Howe reassured the House that the amendment was unnecessary, as network operators would not usually be asked to do anything outside of their “normal course of business”.

Many of the biggest companies in the world rely on strong encryption to provide safe and secure communications and e-commerce, but nevertheless retain the ability to access the contents of their users’ communications for their own business purposes—and, indeed, those companies’ reputations rest on their ability to protect their users’ data. In many cases, we are not asking companies to do something that they would not do in the normal course of their business … This amendment is not necessary because the Bill makes absolutely clear that a telecommunications operator would not be obligated to remove encryption where it is not reasonably practicable for it to do so.

But on the other hand, he opposed an amendment that would give legal force to these reassurances, on the grounds that it could undermine the police and security agencies.

It is important to highlight that the amendment would in many cases prevent our law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies from being able to work constructively with telecommunications operators as technology develops to ensure that they can access the content of terrorists’ and criminals’ communications.

Commentators were left severely confused, with one publication calling Howe’s statements “a master class in political double-speak”.

For more information, see: UK gov says new Home Sec will have powers to ban end-to-end encryption – The Register

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