EU ministers say they are making moves to gain access to encrypted data to help protect the world against terrorist attacks.
In a statement released in early November, ministers argued that gaining access to digital information is becoming more important, and that police forces gaining access to this data is “essential for preventing and eliminating terrorist action.”
The statement comes after EU internal documents on encryption and child sex abuse were released, as well as news of potential issues with end-to-end encryption and child sex images on Facebook.
It was discovered in October this year that Facebook’s messenger app accounts for 94% of millions of child sex abuse images reported by tech companies.
Despite this, Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg says that the company intends to add end-to-end encryption in the future which would be designed to improve user privacy across all its platforms.
End-to-end encryption is a tool used by apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to provide a greater level of privacy.
When a user sends a message, a unique code is allocated to the message which can only be decoded by the recipient. This stops the messages being intercepted and read by government agencies or hackers.
However, this raises major national security concerns, as the traditional monitoring of criminals cannot be carried out, and EU regulators say this could be allowing terrorists to organise attacks.
- Data Protection Summit 2020 | The biggest ICO fines ever issued
- Comment | Now is the time to outsource a good data protection officer
- ICO political data audit highlights ‘significant’ data protection failings
In the released statement, the Ministers said: “Access to digital information is becoming ever more crucial – whether it is traffic data or in some cases, content data – and the mobility of this data demands effective cross-border instruments because otherwise terrorist networks will in many cases be a step ahead of the investigating authorities.
“The competent authorities’ access to the digital information, that is essential for preventing and eliminating terrorist action must – with respect for fundamental rights – be ensured and boosted, especially by concluding the current work on cross-border access to electronic evidence and by devising a way forward on data retention for crime-fighting purposes.”
End-to-end encryption has been a contentious for many years now, especially since the rise of internet usage and online communication apps, and Facebook appears to be a particular target.
As well as the movement of child sex images, in December last year, NSPCC questioned Facebook’s adoption of encryption into its services, stating that its plans could create dangerous conditions for children online.
The firm’s encryption strategy was also attacked in October 2019 by Home Secretary Priti Patel, who claimed that the decision to encrypt messaging services would “restrict law enforcement agencies and put citizens in danger.”