Last week, the UK government confirmed plans to force Internet companies to undermine security by weakening or backdooring encryption. As Privacy News Online reported back in March, the UK’s Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Amber Rudd refused to rule out this move when she called for the “necessary hashtags” to be used. But what was just a vague threat then has moved much closer to reality now that the UK government has held a brief and semi-secret consultation on the so-called “Technical Capability Notices”, which will enable it to demand compliance from companies. Now the Conservatives are saying that they will bring in the new powers as soon as they can after the UK General Election, assuming they are returned to office, as currently seems likely.
The fact that this story broke the day after the attack in Manchester is probably no coincidence. The UK government seems to have decided to exploit public outrage over the murder of so many young people to ensure that protests over the news that the long-threatened assault on encryption is happening would be muted. The implicit reasoning is that if the UK government had been able to read encrypted messages, the Manchester attack would somehow have been averted.
But as more details of the terrorist emerged, it became clear that there were at least five opportunities to have the stopped him, and none of them involved breaking encrypted messages. An article in the Daily Telegraph, a strongly pro-Conservative newspaper, reported:
“Counter Terrorism agencies were facing questions after it emerged [the bomber] Salman Abedi told friends that “being a suicide bomber was okay”, prompting them to call the Government’s anti-terrorism hotline.
Sources suggest that authorities were informed of the danger posed by Abedi on at least five separate occasions in the five years prior to