Friday, 30 June 2017 11:55

Five Eyes nations urged to respect strong encryption

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Eighty-three organisations and experts from the Five Eyes countries have called on ministers responsible for security to respect the right to use and develop strong encryption.

In a statement, the group called on the ministers to "commit to pursuing any additional dialogue in a transparent forum with meaningful public participation".

The statement came in the wake of a meeting of ministers from the five countries — the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — in Ottawa this week to discuss recent terrorist incidents and discuss means to "thwart" the use of encryption by terrorists.

The group said that the ministers had, in a joint communique, "committed to exploring shared solutions to the perceived impediment posed by encryption to investigative objectives".

"While the challenges of modern-day security are real, such proposals threaten the integrity and security of general purpose communications tools relied upon by international commerce, the free press, governments, human rights advocates, and individuals around the world," the statement said.

"Last year, many of us joined several hundred leading civil society organisations, companies, and prominent individuals calling on world leaders to protect the development of strong cryptography.

"This protection demands an unequivocal rejection of laws, policies, or other mandates or practices — including secret agreements with companies — that limit access to or undermine encryption and other secure communications tools and technologies.

"Today, we reiterate that call with renewed urgency. We ask you to protect the security of your citizens, your economies, and your governments by supporting the development and use of secure communications tools and technologies, by rejecting policies that would prevent or undermine the use of strong encryption, and by urging other world leaders to do the same."

The group said that attempts to create backdoors in encrypted applications or software were short-sighted and counter-productive.

They said that if there were restrictions to access of encryption products in Five Eyes countries, anybody who wanted such tools would obtain them in other countries or on the blackmarket.

"We urge you, as leaders in the global community, to remember that encryption is a critical tool of general use. It is neither the cause nor the enabler of crime or terrorism. As a technology, encryption does far more good than harm," the statement said.

"We therefore ask you to prioritise the safety and security of individuals by working to strengthen the integrity of communications and systems. As an initial step we ask that you continue any engagement on this topic in a multi-stakeholder forum that promotes public participation and affirms the protection of human rights."

Electronic Frontiers Australia executive officer Jon Lawrence said encryption was a necessary and critical tool enabling individual privacy, a free media, online commerce and the operations of organisations, including government agencies.

"Undermining encryption therefore represents a serious threat to national security in its own right, as well as threatening basic human rights and the enormous economic and social benefits that the digital revolution has brought for people across the globe," he added.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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