A recent ministerial meeting between officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia—a surveillance partnership known as “Five Eyes”—has inspired a strong call for the preservation of encryption as a means to safeguard internet security.
In an open letter drafted by a total of 83 individuals and organizations, the governments in the Five Eyes alliance were strongly urged to preserve encryption and acknowledge its significance in today’s digital environment regarding online privacy.
Organized by groups such as CIPPIC, Citizen Lab and Access Now, the letter pressed governments to not only accept the need for encryption but also to respect its usage and the development of even stronger encryption.
Signatories of the open letter are of the opinion that future ministerial meetings by the Five Eyes alliance should consent to public participation. According to Access Now U.S. Policy Manager Amie Stepanovich, the lack of transparency and accountability around the Five Eyes partnership renders their commitment to human rights worthless.
“Encryption Can Undermine Public Safety” – Post-Meeting Communique
According to the joint communique that was released shortly after the meeting, encryption can be used to bar law enforcement from accessing digital evidence during the course of investigations.
In doing so, according to the officials, terrorism and other serious crimes become difficult or even impossible to mitigate, thereby putting the safety of the public at risk.
Internet NZ Deputy Chief Executive Andrew Cushen, however, believes that even though the creation of backdoors in encryption is vital when it comes to stifling criminal activity, there is no guarantee that these backdoors would not be manipulated by malicious parties in ways that would violate the general public’s online privacy.
Energy Firms in the U.S. Warned of Imminent Cyber Attacks
The global call for strong encryption comes on the heels of a week that was characterized by several high-profile attacks on industrial firms in the U.S. energy sector.
Issued alongside the warning was a joint report prepared by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in which the agencies noted a rise in phishing attacks on firms in the energy sector since May.
Outside the U.S., the “NotPetya” ransomware terrorized businesses on a global scale by forcefully encrypting data on the machines it infected. The attack, which was first spotted in the Ukraine, resulted in the disruption of several businesses around the globe.
These two incidences point to the need for enhanced encryption for organizations and for the creation of backdoors in encryption that would allow security agencies to better navigate through global ransomware crises such as the aforementioned attacks.
Signatories of the Letter Voice Concerns over Mass Surveillance
Around the globe, there was a unanimous cry for the conservancy of encryption and the continuity of its development.
Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group (ORG), maintained that weakening the public’s digital security was in no way a viable response to the rampant online crime sprees that have recently escalated to a global scale. He implored politicians to view the situation from a non-political perspective and to rely on the opinions voiced by cryptographers and security experts.
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Executive Director Tom Henheffer elucidated the importance of encryption to journalists, activists and dissidents, stating that preserving the integrity of encryption not only lent these people a voice but also protected them from mortal danger.
Jeramie Scott from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) similarly displayed concern for the continuity of security, commerce and the acknowledgment of human rights in a digital environment devoid of reliable encryption.
Meanwhile, Dr. Deborah Peel of Patient Privacy Rights stressed the need for encryption primarily as a means of keeping sensitive health data—one of the most valuable portions of personal data—away from hackers and other malicious parties.
The open letter subtly hinted at public reprisals if the Five Eyes alliance chose to disregard the essence of encryption in the modern world.