Swinging doors

Andy Coulson’s appointment shocks the blogosphere

Two men given top appointments this week share the fact that one of them was forced out of their last job and the other is replacing someone who was forced out. They are Andy Coulson and Robert Zoellick. The blogosphere asked: "Any similarities?"

News of Andy Coulson’s appointment as director of communications for the Conservative party shocked the blogosphere.

Yes, this is the guy who took “ultimate responsibility” for the illegal phone tapping of more than 600 mobile phone messages by one of his reporters when he was News of the World editor.

Guido thinks: “He'll bring a more robust tabloid headline sensitive approach that is more likely to connect with people than an Oliver Letwin speech.”

Mr Coulson certainly knows the newspaper industry like the back of his hand so will no doubt be directed to liaise with editors to drive the Tory party machine to possible victory at the next general election.

Anthony Little, at Little’s Log, said: “I was amused by the triumphant fanfare” over the announcement, but I’m not quite sure what amused him so much.

Labour blogger Tom Watson said Mr Coulson was quite good company. He added: “He is out of the work. The Tories are in disarray. So why not?”

But perhaps most insightful of all, the Lib Dem Norfolk blogger, asked: “What does this tell us about David Cameron?” Comments are welcome.

According to Benedict Brogan’s Daily Mail blog, Mr Cameron's office is describing Coulson's departure from the News of the World as "honourable" following the phone-tapping case.

Honourable is certainly not a word many would use to describe his departure.

But could “honourable” be used to describe the new boss of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick. Awaiting the inevitable approval from its board, Mr Zoellick, a former US trade representative, will be sworn in. He replaces Paul Wolfowitz who was forced to resign after suspected nepotism.

Over at Lenin’s Tomb a succinct summary of Mr Zoellick makes for vital reading. He said: “He wants efficient American power, and keeps his eye decidedly on the welfare of American capital.”

If you watch closely in the new film Black Gold about the injustices of coffee industry, Mr Zoellick can be seen looking very unsympathetic about a producers co-operative in Ethiopia whose farmers’ families are starving.

But I’m sure Mr Zoellick is shrewd and bright, as has been said of Mr Coulson. Both men are clearly now at the top of their respective games. Can they cut the mustard?

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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