The UK’s domestic counter-intelligence
and security agency, MI5, and Sir Andrew Parker, the general director, are pressing
companies that provide end-to-end encryption for their messaging apps to offer
law enforcement a way to read messages, when a warrant is available.
End-to-end encryption is already
implemented or about to be added to most messaging apps today. The companies
building these applications want to offer users a secure avenue, but it’s easy
to imagine that the same service could be used by people looking to do harm.
Before end-to-end encryption, law enforcement
agencies had access to the then-existing technologies, a fact exposed by the
revelations of Edward Snowden. Now, access to the messaging services from outside
is much more cumbersome, and sometimes impossible.
During a recent ITV interview, Sir Parker
said he wanted some sort of “backdoor” or equivalent technology that
would let law enforcement read messages, when backed by a legal warrant.
“Can you provide end-to-end
encryption but on an exceptional basis – exceptional basis – where there is a
legal warrant and a compelling case to do it, provide access to stop the most
serious forms of harm happening?” Parker asked in the interview,
addressing the question to technology companies.
While he didn’t name any company, some
of the biggest names in the business, such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Signal, and
Telegram, already have some form of end-to-end encryption, and some better than
Various governments have been trying to
crack this problem for a while, with little success. A few years ago, a new
organization called “Five Eyes” that included authorities in the US,
UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand were looking to pressure tech companies
into offering access to private data.