Why the Government wants a mandatory ‘backdoor’ on encrypted technology

Five Eyes intelligence alliance says gadget makers could face new legislation if they fail to comply

Side-stepping encryption could make web users vulnerable to hackers
(Image credit: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)

The British government is calling for compulsory access to encrypted technology that would make it easier for the authorities to bypass secure IT systems in order to combat online crime.

Member states of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which includes the UK, US, New Zealand, Australia and Canada, have given technology giants a warning to voluntarily install ‘backdoor’ – a way of cirumventing web security – to encrypted content or face new legislation.

Encryption is a thoroughly secure security system that helps prevent hackers from gathering information or snooping on internet users. The technology can scrabble data sent over the internet so that only the sender and receiver can interpret the signal.

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Encryption is widely employed by tech firms and mostly operates without users knowing about it, but IT Pro says the secrecy it provides poses a “significant challenge” to combating serious crimes and terrorism.

Five Eyes argues that a web security backdoor would enable tech firms to provide secure platforms for web users while allowing governments to access encrypted systems in emergencies.

A joint statement from the Five Eyes organisation says the alliance “may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures” to bypass encryption if tech firms fail to comply voluntarily.

Five Eyes acknowledges that encryption is “vital to the digital economy and a secure cyberspace” but says that the same technology used to secure people’s web activity is also helping cyber criminals avoid law enforcement.

How are tech companies responding?

With resistance, it seems.

Most tech companies are against installing backdoor access methods to their online services. Techniques for side-stepping encryption not only raise privacy concerns, but also provide a weak point that could potentially be exploited by hackers.

According to The Daily Telegraph, WhatsApp and Facebook are among the tech giants that use a high level of encryption on their chat services. They have received multiple requests to install a backdoor.

Last month, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) reportedly asked Facebook to break the encryption on its Messenger chat service in order to give law enforcement officers access to a suspect’s voice messages, the newspaper says.

Facebook resisted the request on the grounds that it would compromise the privacy of its users.

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