Wednesday 21 April 2021

Resistance to security service access to encrypted apps is mounting


Resistance to government plans to limit the end-to-end encryption of chat apps to make it easier for security services to gain access is gathering pace, with a growing number of organisations, security firms and independent experts calling for the continued protection of data.

Big tech companies Facebook, owner of message app Whatsapp, plus Google and Microsoft as well as Amnesty International, consumer organisation Consumentenbond and civil rights organisation Bits of Freedom have all signed a statement consisting of a single sentence: ‘We are calling on the next cabinet to stimulate the development, availability and the application of all forms of encryption.’

Police and security service AIVD and MIVD in particular have been pushing for access to encrypted chat apps such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger to intercept exchanges between criminal and other organisations which they say pose a threat to national security.

Last week Dutch media reported that measures to facilitate access similar to those that apply to phone and internet providers, were still being worked on by the justice ministry despite a lack of support from a majority of MPs.

A spokesperson for the ministry told the NRC that the ongoing investigations at the ministry were ‘part of the job’ but that a draft law would be a matter for the next cabinet.

‘We really want to make clear to the next cabinet that this is not a good idea, spokesman for the civil rights organisation Bits of Freedom Rejo Zenger told broadcaster NOS.

‘If the plans of the justice department become law it will affect the right to a safe communication for people who mean no harm,’ Zenger said. People intent on criminal activity will find a way to communicate anyway, he said.


Journalists too supported the statement, saying the plans threaten the protection of sources.

Security expert Matthijs Koot said he is worried about EU plans to also limit encryption. ‘I worry about the consequences this will have in EU member states with a different ethical viewpoint from ours. These are emergency powers and if the security services claims they are needed we must have a clear and comprehensive debate about them.’

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