Access via the backdoor? No thanks!


For many years now, encryption has been at the centre of the debate between online privacy and national security and the issue has now taken on a deeper sense of urgency. Following the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, CA, Paris and Brussels, law enforcement authorities in the US and some European governments have asked for special access to terrorists’ smart phones or to their encrypted communications through the backdoor.

In the second cyber event organised by the Cybersecurity@CEPS initiative on May 8th, two high-level panels of speakers from Europe and the US discussed these and related issues. Encryption is becoming widespread to protect data-in-motion and data-at-rest. Encryption is considered by the technical community, civil society and the private sector as a way to guarantee privacy and security and a precondition for creating trust in the digital age. Therefore, backdoors are considered detrimental to the safety interests of both users and businesses. They are dangerous since safe backdoors do not actually exist and they are not helpful since they undermine users’ privacy without delivering sound and positive results. Proportionality is also required: we should tolerate a minimum number of unsolvable crimes to uphold our freedom and fundamental civil rights. This approach should be complemented by a new level of cooperation between law enforcement agencies and technology providers to preserve important societal values such as privacy and security for individuals and access to information in support of criminal or national security investigations. Private Public Partnerships could play an important role, but they should focus more on the specifications of the real needs of law enforcement for access to and analysis of data rather than on the collection of massive amounts of data.