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‘Backdoors to encryption are bad,’ civil society group tells Five Eyes, India, Japan. Again.

WhatsApp, Threema

Debates on encryption often follow a predictable pattern. Every few months, USA, UK and Australia, at times accompanied by allies, rail against end-to-end encryption and demand backdoors for law enforcement agencies — either through statements or through draft legislation.  Soon enough, like clockwork, this is followed by response from civil society (and Big Tech), who criticise these statements, remind the world of the fundamental  rights to privacy and freedom of expression, before finally informing the world what is technologically possible.

And so is the case this time. In the 48 hours since the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, India and Japan demanded that end-to-end encrypted services have backdoors, the Global Encryption Coalition (GEC) released a statement “rejecting” the “time-worn argument for encryption backdoors”. The GEC called the statement “another” “ill-considered attempt[s]” to undermine end-to-end encryption and said that the call for backdoors is “incompatible with the technical reality of encryption”. Dark Reading first reported on the statement.

GEC put it quite bluntly: “There is no encryption backdoor that only the good guys can access, and the bad guys cannot.”

If there is a backdoor for law enforcement, it can be exploited by criminals, thereby eroding everybody’s safety and security. It instead called upon government to support end-to-end encryption especially because people are now reliant on internet-based communications more than ever because of COVID-19, and because E2E encryption also protects, journalists, human rights activists, and other vulnerable in repressive states, a fact that even the seven governments’ statement had acknowledged.

Launched in May 2020, GEC’s steering committee consists of the Washington, DC-based Center for Democracy and Technology, London-based Global Partners Digital, and Internet Society. Its 56 organisational members from across the world include India’s Digital Empowerment Foundation, SFLC.in, Indic Project, CCAOI and Swathanthra Malayalam Computing (SMC). Others include Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

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