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25/05/2016

EU cybersecurity agency slams calls for encryption backdoors

Digital

EU cybersecurity agency slams calls for encryption backdoors

FBI-proof: Apple's iPhone 6 has been the focus of political controversy in the United States.

[Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr]

The EU cybersecurity agency ENISA has spoken out against creating backdoors for law enforcement agencies to access encrypted communication.

ENISA director Udo Helmbrecht argued that technology companies should not be forced to create security loopholes for authorities.

A number of European politicians have called for companies to create backdoors for law enforcement agencies to tap into encrypted data on phones, computers and other devices.

Following the bombings in Brussels last week, several politicians, including German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said authorities need increased access to personal data to prevent crimes.

“What we have currently is a typical reaction where something happens, people react and then people sometimes use it also for their own purpose,” Helmbrecht told EurActiv.com.

“We already have legislation that’s not really used enough in these cases,” he said, referring to information sharing between EU countries’ national intelligence agencies.

National legislators in a few EU member states are currently debating laws that would allow authorities to monitor encrypted communication. The UK Investigatory powers bill would force companies to give up access to data secured through encryption technologies to help law enforcement agencies.

In France, a draft bill could impose fines on companies that don’t cooperate with authorities.

“My feeling is that in a lot of cases you cannot prove that these new security measures really prevented new terrorist or criminal events,” Helmbrecht said.

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Apple has been at the centre of a dramatic debate over encrypted data on an iPhone that belonged to a suspect in the December shootings in San Bernardino, California.

In a drawn out legal battle with US authorities that demanded access to the encrypted data, Apple argued that creating a backdoor for the government would make its products more vulnerable to hackers.

Asked about the Apple case last month, European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip told EurActiv that he is “strongly against any kind of backdoor” to encryption.

“If you have a potential backdoor in an encryption implementation then the question is, how can you avoid that terrorists or criminals don’t attack it and don’t use it?” Helmbrecht said.

“What would be your feeling if you leave your house and you know somebody else has a key?” he added.

Technology companies argue that bowing to government requests to access encrypted communication would diminish their customers’ trust.

Opponents to encryption backdoors for law enforcement argue that giving access to secured data would violate EU citizens’ privacy rights.

“Privacy is a fundamental right,” Helmbrecht said. “We are all bound by the legal framework of Europe.”

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Background

Several EU politicians have called for technology companies to create backdoors to encrypted communication systems for law enforcement agencies. Calls for encryption backdoors were reignited after terrorist attacks in Paris last November.

Apple has been embroiled in a weeks-long battle over encryption with the US government after the FBI demanded access to encrypted data on an iPhone that belonged to a suspect in the shootings last December in San Bernardino, California. On 28 March, US authorities dropped a legal case against Apple after the FBI announced it was able to access the data on the iPhone.