Commission to publish encryption report on 18 October

A major tech industry association has slammed national privacy regulators for threatening to file lawsuits against an agreement that allows companies to transfer data between the EU and the US. [Pexels]

The European Commission is trying to pull together member states’ differing views on security and privacy before it publishes a report on encryption technologies on 18 October.

One Commission source said that despite calls from some EU leaders to create so-called backdoors to give police access to encrypted communication, “the debate has moved on” and will suggest “practical” solutions to help law enforcement authorities.

Privacy campaigners and technology lobby groups will be wary of any suggestion to weaken encryption as a way to help police investigate crime.

The Commission official insisted that the report will not suggest lowering levels of encryption.

“Encryption is the basis for our digital economy. We wouldn’t have e-banking, we wouldn’t have e-government systems,” the official said.

“What we’re looking for is how do we help law enforcement here. Nobody is speaking about backdoors because that would mean the undoing of our whole systems. Nobody wants to create a mass surveillance system at EU-level,” the official added.

Diplomats from EU member states met on Monday (18 September) for talks about the encryption report.

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One EU official acknowledged that there is still no “complete homogeneity of what member states want”. The official said that member states will not want to share too much information with other EU countries about how they access some sensitive encrypted data, like military encryption.

But there is broad consensus from member states that experts at EU institutions should produce more research and suggestions to help police use encrypted data in communications.

“If you want to break encryption you need to first know how to encrypt,” one source said.

“Our experts are trying to produce better know-how on encryption technologies. I think there could be a number of possibilities in the next MFF [multiannual financial framework],” the source added, referring to the EU’s long-term budget.

That could mean that funding might be earmarked for EU-level work on encryption. The Commission will propose the next budget in spring 2018; it must be agreed by the European Parliament and member states. The current budget period ends in 2020.

“What a number of member states are trying to push us to do is create new capabilities on the EU-level,” the official added.

Officials in the Commission’s home affairs department DG Home, the justice department DG Just and the technology policy unit DG Connect are drafting the encryption report together.

Andrus Ansip, the Commission vice-president in charge of digital single market policies, has been an outspoken opponent of suggestions to create backdoors for police crack through encryption.

The report will suggest general methods for “targeted cases” when police need to access encrypted data but will not reference specific crimes or situations that national law enforcement authorities have encountered.

The Commission will propose new legislation to counter terrorist activity and financing on the same day that it publishes the report on encryption (18 October).

Those proposals will include “guidance on data retention,” according to the letter Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wrote to the European Parliament and member states when he made his annual state of the European Union speech last week (13 September).

The anti-terror measures will also detail ways to limit terrorist financing and remove illegal and terrorist content from the internet.

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