In a joint proposal released earlier this week, the interior ministers of the two countries attacked messaging services that offer end-to-end encryption, such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal, for posing difficulties during law enforcement investigations. The proposal calls on the establishment of backdoors in encrypted services to “strengthen controls on borders outside of the EU,” “better share crucial information between member states,” and to “fully equip democracies on the question of encryption.
The push for greater control over encrypted technology comes after a recent spate of terror attacks in Europe. Both governments claim to have intercepted large volumes of data prior to the attacks, some of it encrypted and undecipherable.
If successfully established via regulation, backdoors would effectively end the concept of end-to-end encryption, at least insofar as what is legally permissible.
The EU’s continuing crypto crackdown
The recent push to crack encryption is only the latest move in a continuing trend by the EU to restrict decentralized technology. In an effort to combat terrorism and money laundering, the European Commission announced a move to end anonymous Bitcoin transactions, placing private, peer-to-peer buying and selling of cryptocurrency under the same AML/KYC regulations as banks.
In the meantime, Switzerland, which is the home to such famed blockchain companies as Xapo, ShapeShift, and Ethereum, has showed a much friendlier approach to cryptocurrency.
Earlier this year, the Swiss parliament took steps to deregulate blockchain startups to encourage more innovation and business development by exempting them from stringent financial regulations that affect financial institutions. The town of Zug even accepts Bitcoin for certain government services as part of a trial run testing the currency’s viability in public sector applications.
Privacy advocates hold the line against government pressure
Despite the growing pressure from governments to compromise encrypted services, privacy advocates have largely resisted, and maintained a commitment to encryption. The Tor Project recently released a social contract of conduct for the organization, including a commitment against installing backdoors into encrypted products that law enforcement could use to compromise the privacy of users.
Leakers and encryption developers have faced pushback for their commitment to both privacy and transparency. The most obvious examples of this are both Edward Snowden and Julian Assange living in exile while wanted by the US government, but this treatment has extended to others professionally involved in encryption. The US National Security Agency automatically flags those who search of Tor and Tails Linux as an extremist, while a Tor developer was forced to flee to Germany because of pressure to cooperate with the FBI in an encryption investigation.