Rights activists slam EU plan for access to encrypted chats

Tech

BERLIN (AP) — Digital rights campaigners on Monday criticized a proposal by European Union governments that calls for communications companies to provide authorities with access to encrypted messages.

The plan, first reported by Austrian public broadcaster FM4, reflects concern among European countries that police and intelligence services can’t easily monitor online chats that use end-to-end encryption, such as Signal or WhatsApp.

A draft proposal dated Nov. 6 and circulated by the German government, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, proposes creating a “better balance” between privacy and crime fighting online.

The confidential draft, obtained independently by The Associated Press, states that “competent authorities must be able to access data in a lawful and targeted manner, in full respect of fundamental rights and the data protection regime, while upholding cybersecurity.”

It adds that “technical solutions for gaining access to encrypted data must comply with the principles of legality, transparency, necessity and proportionality.”

German Left party lawmaker Anke Domscheit-Berg accused European governments of using anxiety caused by recent extremist attacks, such as those in France and Austria, as an excuse for greater surveillance measures, and argued that providing authorities with a way to access encrypted communications would pose a grave security risk to all users.

“Anyone who finds an open back door into my house can enter it, the same is true for back doors in software,” Domscheit-Berg said. “The proposed EU regulation is an attack on the integrity of digital infrastructure and therefore very dangerous.”

Patrick Breyer, a member of the European Parliament with Germany’s Pirate Party, said enabling governments to intercept encrypted communications “would be the end of secure encryption altogether and would open back doors also for hackers, foreign intelligence, etc.”

The proposal, which would still need to be adopted by EU governments later this month, is not legally binding. But it sets out the political position that EU member states want the bloc’s executive commission to pursue in its dealings with technology companies and the European Parliament.

Germany’s Interior Ministry said the resolution was an effort to “enter into a dialogue with industry and reach a general consensus about how progress can be made in this area that’s acceptable for both sides.”

“This initiative is not about defining or creating any kind of master key,” ministry spokesman Steve Alter told reporters in Berlin.

The German government recently agreed to expand existing surveillance powers reserved for law enforcement agencies to the country’s domestic intelligence agency.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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