Interpol is the acronym given to the International Criminal Police Organization, an inter-government body made up of 194 member countries which states in its remit that it strives “to make the world a safer place.”
Apparently, this doesn’t extend to the online world though as it is being widely reported that Interpol will this week condemn the use of online encryption on the basis that it is hampering their pursuit of child sex predators.
It is reported by the Reuters news agency that Interpol plans to back a version of the resolution introduced by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation which attacks the spread on secure encryption online and calls for tech companies to introduce backdoors to allow law enforcement to access encrypted content.
This will take place at the Interpol Conference in Lyon and will be done without any vote from the 60 or so member countries that will be attending.
The lack of a vote suggests that this move is being spearheaded by the so-called five-eyes countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia and does not necessarily carry the support of all Interpol member states.
Why is Interpol attacking encryption
The resolution that Interpol will force through states that encryption is being used to conceal the sexual exploitation of children.
“Tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can obtain access to data in a readable and useable format,” the resolution will state.
Interpol’s role is to coordinate the capture and extradition of suspects across national borders. As such, resolutions on matters such as this are rather unusual and suggests that Interpol is being used as part of a coordinated attempt to force tech companies to weaken their encryption.
An Interpol statement on a matter such as this could also be used as justification for governments in western countries to unilaterally legislate against encryption, as we have already seen in Australia.
Why Interpol is wrong
The Interpol resolution against encryption is using the argument that encryption has to be broken if we are to save the children from nasty paedophiles. It is an argument that has been used many times before and is deeply flawed on a number of levels.
Firstly, a backdoor into encrypted communications is not something that will be used solely by law enforcement agencies for legitimate purposes. It is introducing a vulnerability which will be open to exploitation by hackers and any number of other malicious actors.
The likes of the USA and the UK are also asking us to trust them that they will only use this backdoor to catch child abuses and other serious criminals. Given their long track record of collecting and searching through the online data of all their innocent citizens, it is hard to take them at their word on this.
Encryption backdoors will not just allow access to selected services either. Online encryption is a vital security feature for all sorts of different online service, from online shopping to banking. Inserting backdoors will make all of these services vulnerable to hackers and government agencies.
Then there is the blunt reality that compromising encryption is unlikely to help in catching child abusers and other serious criminals. The current arrangements allow law enforcement agencies to gather all sorts of information about suspects from mainstream encrypted communications services, just not the content of their communications.
If encryption is compromised, the vast majority of these criminals will disappear onto the dark web further away from law enforcement agencies making them even harder to catch than before.
You cannot uninvent encryption either and if mainstream services choose to introduce backdoors, other encrypted services will emerge to replace them that are far less cooperative with law enforcement agencies.
Exposing data to authoritarian regimes
As we noted above, Interpol is made up of every UN-recognised country in the world apart from North Korea.
This means that if Interpol is involved in compromising encryption, the data they can access will be accessible to rogue authoritarian regimes like those in Communist China and Russia.
As Andrew Crocker, an attorney at the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Reuters, “The idea that the U.S. is so concerned about having lawful exceptional access to end-to-end encryption that they are willing to spread that to… authoritarian states with which we would otherwise not share information, is… [a] complete dereliction of duty of the U.S. government to protect us.”
The truth is that encryption keeps people safe online. That’s why so many online sites and services use it. That’s why the likes of Facebook are planning to introduce it onto their Messenger service. And that’s why so online rights groups work so hard to protect it.
Compromising encryption would make people less safe which against Interpol’s most central remit.
This resolution reveals Interpol as being little more than a puppet of those global superpowers who control it.
And it emphases all too clearly why individual internet users have to take control of their own online security and privacy, by using encrypted communications wherever possible and using a VPN to secure all of their online data.