UK Prime Minister To Messaging Services: Backdoor Or Get Out

In his bid for re-election, UK Prime Minister David Cameron is threatening to have popular messaging services banned in the country unless a requirement is met. These services, which can be used as a vehicle for any type of communication, legal or otherwise, must provide a backdoor for the government to use or face being banned from the country. It's not exactly a novel or shocking idea but its is probably the boldest and most outright support for such methods from a head of state.

This statement came on the heels of the recent attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Although encrypted messaging services may or may not have been used in the terrorist act, it is the perfect opportunity for government agencies to sing the same tune again. They need access to even your private data in order to protect citizens. The UK definitely isn't alone in the sentiment. Leaks, particularly those from Edward Snowden, have revealed things like the NSA's AURORAGOLD ops that tries to sneak in or discover such backdoors in order to "stay in the loop" in matters of national security, at least in theory.

Those same leaks are what prompted Internet and messaging services such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, and more to implement encryption in one form or another. Even mobile platform makers such as Apple and Google have switched on encryption by default. Naturally, this didn't sit well with some in the government, who probably felt like the door was slammed in their faces. One top ranking Department of Justice official even went so far as saying that encryption could get a child killed. While Cameron isn't exactly advocating for the removal of encryption, he wants his government to have privileged access to communication.

The problem with backdoors is that, in the final analysis, they are a security liability. The backdoor that the government can use can be the same backdoor that criminals can exploit. Just as how some paint encryption as emboldening criminals, backdoors can equally be misused as well. This is something that US President Barack Obama somewhat acknowledged in directing the NSA not to take such operations (without outrightly admitting the existence of AURORAGOLD), though he did leave some exception for "matters of national security".

Cameron's ultimatum to messaging services all hinges on whether he does get re-elected in the coming elections. Even then, it will still depend on whether he follows through on those (not all politicians do) and whether he will actually succeed in doing so, both legally and technically.

VIA: Ars Technica