UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said that should he win the next general election, his party will introduce comprehensive legislation which allows intelligence agencies to gain access to private and encrypted communications sent over the Internet. The move is a response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, about which Cameron spoke at a campaign event this week.
He said, “Do we allow terrorists safer spaces for them to talk to each other? I say no we don’t – and we should legislate accordingly.” He went on to say, “I have a very simple principle which will be the heart of the new legislation. In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which even in extremis, with a signed warrant from the home secretary personally, that we cannot read? Up until now, governments have said no, we must not. That is why, in extremis, it has been possible to read someone’s letter, listen to someone’s telephone, to mobile communications. But the question remains: Are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn’t possible to read? My answer to this question is no, we must not.”
Cameron clarified later he wants to gain access to communication data regardless of whether it’s by landline, mobile phone, or over the Internet. There are concerns the new legislation would force encrypted systems, software, and apps to provide “back-doors” for use by security services, and that those unwilling to open up software would be made illegal.
A ban on Snapchat and iMessage?
According to The Guardian, a senior Liberal Democrat minister said the prime minister appeared to be suggesting he would try to ban services such as Snapchat. The government hasn’t commented on services like the photo-sharing app, or how it will tackle Apple’s iMessage system, or web encryption tools including PGP yet.
There are fears this will ultimately see the reintroduction of the controversial communications bill, also known as the snooper’s charter, which ended up being blocked in 2014. One civil liberty advocate told the IBTimes it’s, “Wholly unacceptable for this tragedy in Paris to be used as a means co call for a return of the snooper’s charter.”
Cameron and his conservative government will need to win the general election in May in order to push the proposed legislation forward.