As US Turns Away From Idea Of Backdooring Crypto, David Cameron Has A Problem
from the saber-rattling dept
Last week, Mike wrote about what seems an important shift in US government policy on encryption, as the White House finally recognizes that adding backdoors isn’t a sensible option. That leaves a big question mark over what the UK will do, since David Cameron and intelligence officials have been hinting repeatedly that they wanted to undermine encryption in some unspecified way. Just last week, the new head of MI5, the UK’s domestic intelligence service, gave the first-ever live media interview by a senior British intelligence official. Asked about the alleged danger of parts of the Internet “going dark”, he said:
“It requires the cooperation of the companies who run and provide services over the internet that we all use. It is in no one’s interest that terrorists would be able to plot and communicate out of the reach of any authorities with the proper legal power.”
That’s from The Guardian, and another article there points out that the UK government’s strategy of trying to get the big US online services to co-operate now looks in trouble:
If the White House does drop the battle [over backdoors] it will leave Britain with little option but to accept the widespread use of encryption. The UK’s ability to directly lobby the big American technology firms is limited, and in a report leaked in June the former British diplomat Sir Nigel Sheinwald said that a new international treaty was the only way to get the co-operation of the companies. Without the support of the White House such a treaty seems unlikely.
Without the co-operation of the tech firms what the UK government can do when facing widespread encryption is limited. In June the Home Office confirmed that, for extreme cases, it was considering inserting “black box” probes into the transatlantic cables, to collect data leaving and entering the UK. But if the communications were encrypted on their way to the US, such collection would have little value.
Of course, a lot depends on the detailed policy adopted by the US government, and whether the US intelligence community manages to exploit any future terrorist attacks to get backdoors on the agenda again. But for the moment, it seems that David Cameron’s anti-encryption saber-rattling will remain just that.