France, Germany push for encryption limits

France, Germany push for encryption limits

The French and German interior ministers announced Tuesday that they will push for a Europe-wide law requiring tech companies to provide law enforcement agencies with access to encrypted messages when necessary.

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"Encrypted communications among terrorists constitute a challenge during investigations," reads a joint proposal released Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. "Solutions must be found to enable effective investigation ... while at the same time protecting the digital privacy of citizens by ensuring the availability of strong encryption."

Speaking at a press conference, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière insisted that they do not want to ban encryption but  "exchanges made via applications like Telegram must be able to be identified and used in legal proceedings."

“We propose that the EU Commission studies the possibility of a legislative act introducing rights and obligations for operators to force them to remove illicit content or decrypt messages as part of investigations, whether or not they are based in Europe,” Cazeneuve said, according to reports.

The 19-year-old who killed a Catholic priest at a church in Normandy last month reportedly used Telegram, which has both public channels — monitored by the company for terrorist-related content — and a private messaging function.

Privacy advocates and technology firms have long decried mandatory “backdoors” into encryption as a danger to both user safety and privacy. Providing any guaranteed access for police, they say, leaves a vulnerability open for malicious hackers to exploit.

But officials on both sides of the Atlantic say that companies rapidly employing end-to-end encryption — in which only the user and the sender have the key to decipher a message — stymies investigations and allows terrorists to plot attacks undetected.

Although Europe has traditionally embraced stringent privacy protections, the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice and elsewhere appear to have tilted the balance toward a more hawkish approach to security.

Cazeneuve said Tuesday that French police have detained three people this month with “clear attack plans” but that officials need more ways to effectively identify and monitor potential attackers.

The proposal has a counterpart in the U.S., where Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Trump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role Trump withdraws Ratcliffe as Intelligence pick MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program The Hill's Morning Report - More talk on guns; many questions on Epstein's death Juan Williams: We need a backlash against Big Tech MORE (D-Calif.), the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have circulated a proposal that would require tech companies to provide “technical assistance” to investigators with a warrant to access to locked communications.

The bill was met with immediate outcry from privacy advocates and security specialists alike, and it has not yet been introduced.