18:36 GMT06 June 2020
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    The Five Eyes group has issued a memo stating that encryption was vital to the digital economy and government information. The group threatened to pursue technological, legislative and other measures to achieve lawful access to the information. Sputnik discussed this with Yair Cohen, a social media lawyer with Cohen Davis Solicitors.

    Sputnik: What’s your take on the timing of the memo? Does it come as a surprise to you?

    Yair Cohen: It doesn’t come as a surprise to me. And I think that no one should really be surprised by the timing of this. The political climate seems to be correct, it seems to be the right climate for this. I think that the fact that five powerful governments got together and didn’t just issue a memo, but issued a very powerful statement of principles, which means they are very serious about this.

    Sputnik: How likely is this initiative to be carried out?

    Yair Cohen: I think what the governments are saying is that there are no two societies. There’s only one society and the online society needs to come down to Earth, and the same rules that are applied to offline activities are going out to be applicable to online activity. So, in the same way that governments have the power to go to court, obtain a search-warrant, enter somebody’s house, search the house, the car and the belongings, the governments are saying they should do exactly the same in relation to online activity. They are not introducing anything that hadn’t been known before.

    Sputnik: In your view, how necessary are these measures? Could these measures actually prevent tragic events such as explosions on any global city’s streets from actually occurring?

    Yair Cohen: I believe that those measures are overdue now. I don’t believe there should be such a big gap between the law enforcement’s abilities in relation to online and those in relation to offline. It will help prevent all sorts of activities, from money laundering to terrorist activity to child exploitation. Social media companies have now been pushed to the corner, because they have now been told that they are given one final chance to cooperate with the governments, otherwise there are going to be some consequences.

    Sputnik: What can this actually mean for private data usage for regular users?

    Yair Cohen: Not much. Regular users don't necessarily use heavy encryption. As long as the activity is lawful, most people who use the Internet have absolutely nothing to worry about. According to the statement of principles, the intention is only access the information once the legal process has been complied with. There won’t be a situation when a judge says “open up the phone” and Apple says they don’t want to do it because they have obligations towards their users.

    Sputnik: What measures can be taken by governments against tech companies who refuse to comply? Can they follow a course of legal action against them?

    Yair Cohen: There will be legislations, laws and international conventions. The great power of being able to effectively monitor and police the Internet will be taken away from those Internet companies, so they will lose the ability to have any form of discretion. The risk, of course, is that once there’re legislations and laws in place there could be a slippery slope and there will be no one to protect the users. I think that Internet companies will do the right thing by acting more responsibly and by engaging with governments, otherwise they will be facing laws that will force them to comply.

    Sputnik: Cybersecurity experts have previously stated that weakening any part of the encryption system could in some way lead to a weakening of the whole system; are you in agreement with this statement?

    Yair Cohen: Indeed, according to the statement of principles, while building those systems there will be a requirement for the Internet companies to build a way in. And that could cause a risk that the data could be compromised. But the government is aware of this and I think this is something that will still need to be addressed.

    The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker, and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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