In what could turn out to be a rather worrying turn of events, five international governments have asked tech companies to create backdoors into encrypted devices.
The request comes from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, with the five making up an alliance often referred to as the Five Eyes.
The countries recently held a meeting to discuss encryption and have seemingly deemed it necessary for law enforcement to get access to encrypted devices when needed.
The meeting also touched on other hot button issues like migration, border control, foreign interference and terrorism among others, but their thoughts on encryption is quite illuminating.
“Encryption is vital to the digital economy, a secure cyberspace and the protection of personal, commercial and government information. The five countries have no interest or intention to weaken encryption mechanisms. We recognise, however, that encryption, including end-to-end encryption, is also used in the conduct of terrorist and criminal activities…”
“Therefore, we agreed to the urgent need for law enforcement to gain targeted access to data, subject to strict safeguards, legal limitations, and respective domestic consultations,” explained an official communique from the Australian government’s department of home affairs.
It would appear then that the five governments are looking for the cooperation from tech companies specifically when it comes to criminal activity. That said, criminal activity is a rather broad term.
We understand how it may apply in incidents were evidence in an investigation may be stored on a person’s smartphone, as has been the situation in recent high-profile cases involving iPhones.
Where the situation gets a tad more difficult to discern, however, is to what extent the governments would want access. If they wish to scan devices looking for potential threats, there could be push back from consumers who do not want the government to have ready-access to their personal data.
It should be stated though that we have not reached that point, with the proposed backdoors not an ultimatum.
The countries did, however, note that they “may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative, or other measures,” should tech companies prove uncooperative.
As such, this is still a developing story and one we’ll be watching very closely.