US group calls to keep encryption strong as UK snoopers’ charter set to return

A coalition of top cryptologists and several large technology firms have sent a letter urging the US government to preserve strong encryption

A coalition of top cryptologists and several large technology firms, including Apple and Google, have sent a letter urging the US government to preserve strong encryption.

The letter is aimed at counteracting growing pressure from law enforcement and security agencies to build back doors into electronic communications systems, reports the Washington Post.

“Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security,” said the letter, signed by more than 140 technology companies, prominent technologists and civil society groups.

The letter was also signed by three of the five-member group, set up by US president Barack Obama in 2013, to reassess technology policy after Edward Snowden’s leaks, reports the Guardian.

The government should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards [nor] in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable” commercial software, the letter said.

Law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, have been increasingly vocal in recent months about their opposition to the encryption of online communication channels.

US Department of Homeland Security head Jeh Johnson, FBI director James Comey, former European Cyber Crime Centre head Troels Oerting, GCHQ director Robert Hannigan and Europol director Rob Wainwright have all opposed ubiquitous encryption. 

Read more about the draft Communications Data Bill

Most recently, three of the UK’s law enforcement chiefs have come out in support of a revival of the so-called “snoopers’ charter” to monitor electronic communications.

In response to concerns about the encryption of communication channels, UK prime minister David Cameron has suggested building in back doors to allow authorities access.

In January, Cameron indicated he would consider banning communication channels that cannot be read by the security services, even if they have a warrant.

At the time, Open Rights Group called on the prime minister to provide more details about his plans to give the security services the legal powers to break encrypted communications.

“Cameron’s plans appear dangerous, ill-thought out and scary,” said Jim Killock, executive director at the Open Rights Group.

Security industry representatives have also expressed concerns that any back doors put in for security will be open to abuse by hackers, cyber criminals, nation states and terror groups.

Hours after the UK general election, home secretary Theresa May said she would seek to reintroduce the draft Communications Data Bill, known as the snoopers’ charter, which has the support of the National Crime Agency, Metropolitan Police and City of London Police.

Read more on Privacy and data protection

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