Why it matters: Governments around the world are growing increasingly frustrated with tech companies for failing to comply with requests for customer data. This represents a joint effort to pressure tech companies to comply with the law while trying to reassure citizens that encryption is important for cyber security.
The members of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing agreement (United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and United Kingdom) have issued a joint statement asking tech companies to essentially open backdoors into encryption in order to allow for law enforcement and national security.
“The increasing use and sophistication of certain encryption designs present challenges for nations in combatting serious crimes and threats to national and global security. Many of the same means of encryption that are being used to protect personal, commercial and government information are also being used by criminals, including child sex offenders, terrorists and organized crime groups to frustrate investigations and avoid detection and prosecution.”
The Five Eyes basically argue that “providers of information and communications technology and services” have a responsibility to provide access to lawfully obtained data and that cooperation with the government constitutes a mutual benefit. The statement goes on to say that despite the promulgation of encrypted services by tech companies, those companies are still subject to the rule of law and must comply with laws that grant access to data in order for the governments to fulfill their duty to protect their citizens from harm.
The statement tries to be conciliatory in by promising that tech companies should do this voluntarily and that the technological means that one company uses to comply with government requests doesn’t have to be the same means that another company uses and neither will the governments prefer one method over another. However, the governments warn that any further “impediments” to access data may result in other “technological, enforcement, legislative, or other measures” in order to ensure compliance.
In a further effort to assuage the fears of civil liberties advocates, the Five Eyes also released a joint memo that details their commitment to the importance of a free and open internet, countering terrorism, cyber security, border control, countering foreign interference, and encryption.
The issue of getting tech companies to allow access to private customer data has been ongoing for quite a while. Apple infamously dealt with this in the aftermath of the San Bernadino terrorist attack while Facebook has been in recent litigation with the U.S. Department of Justice for access to encrypted Messenger data.
Given how driven many large tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple are to reinforce encryption on the web and proprietary messaging applications, governments around the world will likely step up attempts to force those companies to comply with data requests.