They sound like the silhouetted villains from a Marvel Universe movie, but not only is the extremely sinister-sounding Five Eyes group very real, they are actually comprised of the governments of five of the world’s most developed countries.
But don’t let that reassure you, because the agenda being pursued by the governments of the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is far from benevolent. Indeed, at the moment, they arguably pose every bit as much of a threat to online freedom as authoritarian regimes like China and Russia.
This was reinforced as representatives met at the Five Country Ministerial (FCM), the annual gathering of the Five Eyes Group. The statement released in the wake of that meeting makes for chilling reading.
‘Privacy is not absolute’ declare democracies
The Five Eyes Group has decided that ‘privacy is not absolute’. In other words, these officials have concluded, at their behind-closed-doors meeting, that you do not have the right to keep to your online activity private.
And the main focus of their privacy assault is, once again, encryption. The Five Eyes have been casting their malicious gaze over encryption for some time. It is Australia who has been at the forefront of this push, but the other four nations are not exactly unwilling participants.
Their entrenched view that security trumps privacy and basic human rights remain unwavering. And this was reasserted by their latest statement.
It essentially demands that every tech company which uses encryption has to create a backdoor to allow the Five Eyes law enforcement agencies to access information. And they warn tech companies that if they do not comply, all five countries will pass legislation to force them to do so.
They further state that the use of end-to-end encryption, which prevents law enforcement agencies from accessing any communications data “should be rare”.
The severe risks of the Five Eyes Group threats
Anyone who knows anything about encryption will tell you that by creating a backdoor you are essentially breaking the system. A backdoor means adding a vulnerability and it is only a matter of time before this is discovered. If encryption has a backdoor, you may as well not use it.
Astonishingly, in the same memo, the Five Eyes Group acknowledge that is the case, saying that ‘Encryption is vital to the digital economy, a secure cyberspace and the protection of personal, commercial and government information.”
At least they have got one thing right! But their subsequent claim that they “have no interest or intention to weaken encryption mechanisms” is laughable in the context of the rest of their statement.
The Five Eyes group clearly wants to have their cake and eat it. They expect to be able to access encrypted communications at will, but not compromise encryption elsewhere on the internet. This is just not possible!
What the Five Eyes Group also singularly fails to recognize is that they cannot uninvent encryption. It is not going to go away. And breaking conventional encrypted communications, such as WhatsApp and Telegram, will not help them catch the criminals and terrorists they claim are hiding behind encryption.
The inevitable consequences and will Spiderman save the day?
At present, when mainstream encrypted communications are used for nefarious purposes, the platforms willingly help law enforcement as much as possible. They comply with court orders and hand over as much information as they have available.
By pushing them to break their encryption, you will simply push criminals onto more underground encrypted networks which are far less cooperative. The likelihood is that encryption backdoors will, ironically, make it even harder to catch online crooks and terrorists than it is at the moment.
But this logic is completely lost on the Five Eyes Groups who have instead chosen to ratchet up the rhetoric in search of tabloid headlines. Their statement contains ludicrous claims such as the suggestion that encryption “undermine[s] the systems of justice established in our democratic nations.”
Get a grip, guys! Justice is doing just fine. The problem is your law enforcement agencies are simply not keeping pace with technology.
This statement is a classic example of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The Five Eyes Group is essentially seeking to remove online security and privacy protections for everyone in order to try and catch a handful of people.
And rather than find innovative law enforcement techniques to do this, they want to break the internet for everyone.
If this was a Marvel movie, it is about this point that Spiderman or Iron Man would swoop in, bang a few heads together, and make the world safe again.
But, here, in reality, there are no superheroes to protect us from the Five Eyes Group’s campaign against our online rights. It is therefore down to us to try and keep ourselves safe.
The best way to do this is by using a VPN. A VPN encrypts everything you do online to prevent Five Eyes surveillance from seeing what you are doing online.
And by using a VPN based off-shore, such as ExpressVPN or NordVPN, you are using a provider which is not subject to the laws of any of the Five Eyes countries. This means you can be confident that your data will remain private too.