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The Five Eyes – Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand – recently met in Ottawa to discuss national security challenges. The resulting joint communiqué noted that “encryption can severely undermine public safety efforts by impeding lawful access to the content of communications during investigations into serious crimes, including terrorism.” The Internet Society believes that this view of encryption is misleading and bodes badly for a trusted Internet. Any weakening of encryption will hurt cybersecurity and individual rights and freedoms. In fact, the consequences of weakened encryption would go further.

Encryption . . . 

  • Is an important component of a trusted Internet. User trust is critical to the Internet’s utility; without it, the potential of the Internet will be stunted. Today’s increasing cyber threats underscore the need for strong encryption.
  • Supports economic development. Without encryption, the Internet cannot facilitate the online services that drive economic growth worldwide. E-commerce sites and banks use encryption to allow users to make secure transactions that can only be seen by the people involved.
  • Protects social development. We know that activists and journalists rely on encryption for their safety. For the everyday user, encryption protects privacy and freedom of thought, association, and expression.
  • Keeps people safe. Individuals in vulnerable communities, such as victims of domestic abuse and undercover police officers, rely on encryption to communicate anonymously. Undermining encryption would hurt the safety of the people security agencies are charged with protecting.

Introducing measures to weaken encryption would have risks that significantly outweigh the conceived national security benefits. In fact, bad actors will likely find alternative clandestine communication methods.

The Five Eyes’ joint communiqué stated their commitment to “develop our engagement with communications and technology companies to explore shared solutions while upholding cybersecurity and individual rights and freedoms”. If encryption is undermined, that promise rings hollow.

As the Directors of the Regional Bureaus that include the Five Eyes countries, we are pleased that the Internet Society has joined a coalition of more than 80 organizations and individuals calling on the Five Eyes to respect encryption.

  • Mark Buell, Regional Bureau Director, North America
  • Frédéric Donck, Regional Bureau Director, Europe
  • Rajnesh D. Singh, Regional Bureau Director, Asia-Pacific 

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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