02:27 GMT23 February 2020
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    A pact of five nations known as the Five Eyes group has issued a memo stating that encryption is vital to the digital economy and government information. The group threatened to pursue technological, legislative and other measures to achieve lawful access to government information.

    Radio Sputnik discussed this with Binoy Kampmark, a senior lecturer at the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

    Sputnik: What do you personally think about the memo that's been mentioned? How necessary are the proposed measures, and can they actually prevent tragic events like shooting or terrorist attacks from happening in the future?

    Binoy Kampmark: The nature of the memorandum you've mentioned is part of a broader movement between the countries; the Five Eyes group which has been trying to identify this overarching penetration of encryption technologies for some time. That's putting pressure on technological giants to lessen their protections or to facilitate backdoor entry by security services.

    The gist of this has been ongoing for some time, which is that you need to have better measures of breaking encryptions in order to supposedly prevent attacks or security threats.

    But experience shows that having these kinds of backdoors is far more counterproductive than actually helping target any attacks for the simple reason that you can target these things with standard intelligence; and in many instances pre-existing legislation in terms of surveillance or in terms of tapping funds is very unnecessary to override encryption technologies, but this is the national security imperative that's pedaled.

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

    Binoy Kampmark: What should be happening, of course, is that it should be encouraging national security agencies, intelligence services and law enforcement to be conducting the measures in a more diligent way — that also acknowledges the importance of human rights.

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    The problem of having these kinds of incentives is that it encourages a certain lazy disposition on the part of law enforcement; it also encourages a sloppy disposition when it comes to protecting human rights.

    And it doesn't necessarily lead to efficiency in any greater sense. In fact, in some instances, there is a suggestion that this is the sort of stuff that blurs the lines and actually doesn't achieve the purpose that it's meant to.

    Sputnik: Currently the pact includes only five countries; do you think that eventually other countries will join it or come up with separate international legislation?

    Binoy Kampmark: An international regime like this is always going to face certain challenges. It doesn't need to say that there can't be common guidelines, this is something that we can accept whether it's data processing or accessing material.

    But the one thing that is acknowledged internationally is, of course, the right to privacy and the right to private communications.

    One of the things that's very important in this and it's acknowledged in international law and in international conventions, as well as in lots of domestic legislation, is that what effectively these kinds of proposals do is to challenge fundamentally the prospect that some private individual communications can be breached because of the lowering or the sidestepping of the encryption protections, which, of course, is the fundamental reason they exist — they exist for the pursuit of business, human relations and engagement — and to have these particular weaknesses and to have these stresses and pressures put on the tech giants and industries by governments.

    It's going to compromise the nature of this trust and not necessarily attain the security that it's meant to. If anything, it will create a sense of insecurity.

    Sputnik: What are the main concerns now for the users' private data?

    Binoy Kampmark: The nature of this challenge between information security, communications, correspondence and engagement in this way is in a permanent kind of tussle with the national security imperative. Citizens and individuals who engage in the use of these technologies will have to be more circumscribed in the way they do so.

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    The important thing to realize is that the Silicon Valley giants have had at times an uncomfortable relationship with the governments of the day.

    The Snowden revelations were very clear when it came to the proximity between certain tech giants and, of course, provision of information from these giants to enforcement of that at different stages; the one thing that they could get away was that they did have the sort of technology that at times would at least be able to protect the integrity of information.

    But with the acceleration of the use of encryption across the board the challenge is on to try to find some way of getting a key or breaking this encryption transfer and this is something that is an ongoing process and you can only see more of that trying to take place in various states.

    Sputnik: Cybersecurity experts previously stated that weakening any part of the encryption system could in some way lead to a weakening of the whole system; what're your thoughts on that? Is that statement true?

    Binoy Kampmark: Most certainly because this is something that was confirmed in the Snowden revelations of 2013, that is, there have been attempts by intelligent agencies and such agencies as the NSA to pressure other allies and other states to try to introduce legislation and rules to actually lessen encryption protection.

    The reality is that either it can be done like that or the other approach would be to put in legislation to make the tech giants compliant so that in certain circumstances, provided the officials have a reasonable reason to seek for information or protected data, they can do so, but this is all fraught with danger; and of course if this was to happen then you cannot take the integrity of the communications for what it should be and for that reason it's not so much that it would collapse, but it certainly would not be able to be trusted.

    And I think the essence of encryption, of course, is confidentiality and security, and if you start bringing in backdoors, keys and so forth for the authorities then, of course, they will destabilize the entire process.

    The views and opinions expressed by the contributors do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.





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