UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd has denied reports that she wants a ban on encryption, but indicated that the British Government’s negotiations with global tech giants are progressing well.
As we have reported previously, in the wake of the Westminster terrorist attack, it was reported that the Government was stepping up efforts to clamp down on encryption. And the more recent attack in Manchester has led to renewed fears that the Government might take action.
Home Secretary finally understands encryption?
But in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show at the weekend, Rudd responded to a question about a potential ban on encryption by saying “I never did suggest it. What I have always said is the internet provides an incredibly important place for people to do business, encryption is important for banking, for everything else as you say. But we need to do better to stop terrorists being able to use it.”
The comments suggest that Rudd has finally grasped the crucial role that end-to-end encryption plays in many aspects of online business and that it is not just a tool to hide communications from the prying eyes of her intelligence agencies. This understanding has been sorely lacking in her previous kneejerk comments on the issue and suggests that she is perhaps finally wrapping her head around the issue.
Quite what negotiations have been taken place between the Government and tech companies is unclear at the moment, but Rudd seemed to be confident they would reach what she, at least, would consider a positive conclusion.
“We are making good progress with the firms that have put in place end-to-end encryption,” she said. “Some of them are being more constructive than others, but we will continue to build on that.”
No knee-jerk surveillance legislation planned
She was explicit in her comments that additional knee-jerk legislation in the wake of the recent attacks was not on the agenda. She said that police and the intelligence agencies now have all the powers the need.
For those who understand the depth and reach of the Investigatory Powers Act, this is something of an understatement. The British law enforcement bodies have the widest and most far-reaching surveillance powers anywhere in the free world.
Indeed, this law actually does include the power for the Government to demand access to encrypted communications, but the practicalities and legal implications of actually trying to enforce that mean it does not appear to have been used as of yet.
Green Party surveillance confusion
At the same time as the Home Secretary finally seems to have begun to understand the issue of encryption, the Green Party made it abundantly clear that they still don’t.
During a separate interview on Sunday morning television, the co-leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, was asked about the issue in relation to terrorist incidents.
She responded by saying that that messaging services such as WhatsApp should be banned from “scrambling people’s data.”
There followed a swift and hasty retraction on Twitter, with Lucas making herself sound even less technically competent by saying “Too many ‘ends’ in one question! To be clear, Greens do not want to end ‘end to end’ encryption.”
The Green Party manifesto is also clear that they are opposed to widespread state surveillance. But the fact that their only recent MP, and the co-leader of the party, has such a weak grasp of the issue will be worrying for many of their supporters.
Encryption is a complex issue and terrorist attacks such as the ones experienced in the UK in recent weeks can easily see it being simplified by politicians who don’t really grasp it.
This lack of understanding is a big reason why surveillance laws are so flawed in the UK already. Internet users can only hope that the situation doesn’t have to get any worse before it gets better.