Written by Joe Westby, Researcher on Technology and Human Rights, Amnesty International.
Anyone who hoped that the debate about encryption had already been put to bed, sadly, was wrong . Today, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd will meet with technology companies1 including Facebook and Google to discuss encrypted messaging services, with a view to persuading the companies to gain access to encrypted communications. Earlier this week, in the wake of the Westminster terrorist attack, Rudd became the latest state official to blame encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp for ostensibly facilitating terrorist attacks . Meanwhile, yesterday the EU promised to put forward tough new rules2 on encrypted messaging in June. We have been here before3. As with earlier attempts by the UK and other governments to crack down on encrypted messaging apps, Rudd s proposal to force technology companies to give the police and intelligence agencies access to end-to-end encrypted messages is misguided, ineffective, and dangerous and risks undermining the rights of us all.
There is little good that can come out of Rudd s attack on end-to-end encryption, the particular technology used by WhatsApp and several other messaging apps . With end-to-end encrypted communications, no other party except the people in the conversation not even the company providing the service – can see the content of messages. Although on the face of it, it sounds reasonable to ask companies to surrender the communications of terrorists, in reality this is impossible without compromising the security and rights of all of the users of these services.
End-to-end encryption is an effective method of securing communications, including sensitive personal data, from falling into the wrong hands . There is consensus within the tech community that there is no way to put in place a system of special access (referred to as a backdoor ) to encrypted messages that could only be used by the intended state authorities . A door is a door is a door . If a backdoor exists, you have to assume that others be they criminals, hackers, or other governments will also figure out how to access the information. It is also now widely recognised that encryption is a vital enabler of human rights4, in particular the rights to privacy and to freedom of expression and opinion . Encrypting our information helps to create a zone of privacy online within which we are free to express our beliefs and ideas without fear of interference . Activists around the world rely on encryption to protect themselves from persecution.
Measures to weaken encryption on popular commercial services would only serve to undermine the human rights and information security of all the ordinary people using them and would still not stop people intending to commit criminal or terrorist acts from using end-to-end encryption. The widespread accessibility of encryption tools across the world means that it will be near impossible to prevent terrorist and criminal groups from using encryption in their communications. Only 1 out of 9 apps5 reportedly identified as safe or safest by the armed group that calls itself the Islamic State is not open source, meaning that the majority are freely available online and would not be affected by regulation in one jurisdiction. Moreover, it is critical to understand the context in which end-to-end encryption is being more and more widely introduced by companies .
We live in a golden age of mass surveillance . In December last year, the UK adopted the Investigatory Powers Act, one of the world s most far-reaching pieces of electronic surveillance legislation . Not only did it give government agencies access to huge personal data sets but also allowed them to undertake surveillance and hacking at a mass scale. Existing surveillance powers in the UK are already incredibly broad, and contrary to human rights in and of themselves . Worse still, we know very little about how these powers are used . But what we do know should give us pause.
We know, for instance, that the UK government has spied on Amnesty International6 . We know they have spied on confidential lawyer-client communications7 . We know that the government acted unlawfully8 in its data sharing arrangements with the USA. Human rights law does not prevent surveillance, provided it is carried out for a legitimate purpose, subject to adequate safeguards and oversight and, importantly, based on individualised reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing . In short, surveillance must be targeted.
End-to-end encryption limits but does not prevent this sort of legitimate, targeted surveillance . The widespread adoption of end-to-end encrypted messaging apps does, however, make the kind of untargeted, and unlawful, mass surveillance programs uncovered by Edward Snowden much more difficult. Terrorist attacks that deliberately maim and kill bystanders at random are an attack on all of our human rights . Preventing these sorts of acts, and bringing perpetrators to justice, are challenges that demand a strong and coherent response from government, industry and civil society.
But we must resist the impulse to chase seemingly easy solutions whose impacts are likely illusory and whose downsides are immense .
Weakening encryption on Whatsapp and others services only weakens security for all of us, rather than enhancing it.
- ^ meet with technology companies (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ put forward tough new rules (www.euractiv.com)
- ^ We have been here before (www.politico.eu)
- ^ vital enabler of human rights (www.amnesty.org)
- ^ Only 1 out of 9 apps (static.newamerica.org)
- ^ spied on Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org)
- ^ confidential lawyer-client communications (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ acted unlawfully (www.privacyinternational.org)
Pakistan has begun its first national census in 19 years amid tight security from around 200,000 military personnel. A 70-day data gathering operation, starting in 63 districts and protected by police and soldiers, is being carried out by 118,000 officials. The previous census was completed in 1998 and the long delay in updating it is down to a lack of funds, political disputes and insufficient troops to keep everybody involved safe. But in December the chief justice of Pakistan’s supreme court set a deadline of March or April, saying a census was essential to democracy. Seats in Pakistan’s parliament are allocated according to population density and without a census the number of seats cannot be decided. Rural populations in the world’s sixth-largest country frequently change as people try to escape poverty and ethnic or sectarian violence by moving to towns and cities. The security staff will protect census teams and ensure households can enter data without being intimidated by powerful feudal landlords and political families who fear losing influence.
“We made all the arrangements for a smooth, safe and transparent process of population census,” said census official Javed Iqbal in Peshawar, capital of the volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
For the first time, transgender Pakistanis will be counted – although forms had already been printed when the decision was made. “We have been anxiously waiting for the process to begin but it hurt us as there is no separate column in the form,” said Farzana Riaz, president of Trans Action. Afghan refugees will also be included, despite opposition from the southwest province of Baluchistan on the border with Iran, where ethnic Baluchs fear becoming a minority. Other communities have criticised the decision to include only nine of the estimated 70 languages used in Pakistan. Households will also be asked how many toilets they have, as the United Nations estimates up to 40% of Pakistanis defecate in the open air with dramatic health consequences, especially for children.
In a sign of how much has changed since the previous census, Karachi’s population was put at 9.2 million in 1998, but current estimates now vary between 18 and 23 million, according to the National Database and Registration Authority.
Celebrations around the world to welcome in 2017 are being held amid heightened security in the wake of the deadly terror attacks in Berlin and Nice. Auckland in New Zealand was the first to usher in the new year at 11am UK time. In Australia, which will celebrate the New Year at 1pm UK time, around 1.5 million people are expected at Sydney harbour to watch the fireworks spectacular. :: Barriers in London to prevent NYE lorry attack1
An extra 2,000 police officers have been drafted in to the city while buses will be used to close off some pedestrian areas amid fears about a repeat of this year’s extremist atrocities in France and Germany. In Berlin, where 12 people were killed when a hijacked lorry was driven into a busy Christmas market, barriers have been installed around the landmark Brandenburg Gate to protect revellers. Security has also been ramped up in Cologne in a move to prevent a repeat of last year’s trouble, when police failed to failed to prevent a string of robberies and sexual assaults blamed largely on foreign men. :: Will fog ruin New Year firework displays?2
In New York’s Time Square, where the famed glitter ball is due to descend at 5am UK time, dozens of 20-ton refuse lorries weighted with an extra 15 tons of sand will block the streets around the celebrations, while there will be about 7,000 police officers on patrol. The US security crackdown is not just confined to New York . In Las Vegas FBI and Secret Service agents are working alongside local police departments in order to keep safe more than 300,000 expected visitors for the extravagant celebrations.
In the Indian capital New Delhi and many other of the country’s cities, security has been tightened around shopping centres and restaurants. Here are the UK times of New Year around the world: :: 11am – Auckland
:: 1pm – Sydney :: 3pm – Tokyo :: 3.30pm – Pyongyang
:: 4pm – Hong Kong
:: 9pm – Moscow
:: 11pm- Berlin/Paris