11 Oct, 2020 06:19 PM3 minutes to read
Encrypted messaging services pose a number of security risks. Photo / Getty Images
The governments of seven countries including the UK and the US have publicly warned technology companies that offering unbreakable encryption to their users "creates severe risks to public safety".
Ministers from the "Five Eyes" intelligence sharing alliance of the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand published a statement on Sunday which called on technology companies to build ways to regularly hand encrypted private messages to police and governments.
"We urge industry to address our serious concerns where encryption is applied in a way that wholly precludes any legal access to content," the countries wrote.
READ MORE: Cyber-security: Study finds most NZ small businesses tempting fate The Conversation: NZ's cyber security centre warns more attacks likely
Creating unbreakable encryption, where technology companies cannot read messages sent by their users, "poses significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children," the governments added.
The countries stopped short of condemning all forms of encryption, however, and noted that strong encryption "plays a crucial role in protecting personal data, privacy, intellectual property, trade secrets and cyber security."
The statement was signed by home secretary Priti Patel as well as representatives of India and Japan, countries which are not formally part of the Five Eyes alliance.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said earlier this month that the UK is seeking to expand the Five Eyes alliance in order to "send a message to China".
"We would absolutely continue to explore working with new partners in Asia and deepening Five Eyes," Mr Wallace told a ConservativeHome event at the Conservative Party Conference.
Sunday's statement follows a similar warning by the Five Eyes alliance published in 2018 which called on technology companies to create "customised solutions" that would allow police to access private messages, bypassing encryption.
The governments warned that they could take action such as "technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures" in order to prevent police being denied access to material by unbreakable end-to-end encryption.
Last year, an alliance of technology companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft and WhatsApp signed an open letter condemning a proposal by the UK's GCHQ agency which suggested that law enforcement could be invisibly added as a recipient to private messages to avoid forcing companies to break their own encryption.
A Facebook spokesman said: "We've long argued that end-to-end encryption is necessary to protect people's most private information. In all of these countries, people prefer end-to-end encrypted messaging on various apps because it keeps their messages safe from hackers, criminals, and foreign interference. Facebook has led the industry in developing new ways to prevent, detect, and respond to abuse while maintaining high security and we will continue to do so."
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