Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Guardian's Seumas Milne warns that the Tories will win a landslide victory unless Labour transforms the argument over public debt into one over market failure:

Cheered on by the bulk of the media, Cameron and Osborne have executed a startling sleight of hand, persuading a large section of the public that the real crisis facing the country isn't the havoc wreaked on jobs and living standards by the breakdown of the free-market model -- but the increase in government debt incurred to pay for it.

In the Independent, Adrian Hamilton argues that the Lisbon Treaty will entrench the worst features of the European Union:

[I]f it is a concerted drive towards the future that you want in Europe, then it would be best if the Irish did reject the treaty a second time. That, at least, would force the heads of Europe to get their act together in response. Without it, we're back to the bad old ways of doing things -- the backroom deals over appointments, the watered-down policies and the aimless bureaucracy. After Barrosa we'll get the manoeuvring over the European presidency and the new foreign minister and we'll end up in just the same way, with the lowest common denominator candidate.

Over at Salon, Andy Kroll says that the lobbying industry has continued to flourish under Obama:

If the president's sprawling agenda has revealed anything, it's the extent to which private industries and their foot soldiers on K Street and Capitol Hill influence -- and in some cases dictate -- American policymaking. Right now, about 12,500 federally registered lobbyists make their trade in Washington, but believe it or not, they're only a small slice of the pie.

In the Times, Nick Clegg argues that just as Labour superseded the Liberal Party, so the Liberal Democrats will replace Labour as the dominant progressive party:

Labour deserved to win against the Liberals then. I believe Liberals deserve to win against Labour now. Because Labour's basic reflexes -- central state activism, hoarding power at the centre, top-down government -- are the wrong tools to meet the challenges of the modern world. We live in a society where people are no longer rigidly defined by class or place, no longer trapped by a culture of hierarchy.

In the Daily Telegraph, Jon Kay says that separating commercial banking from investment banking is a more urgent priority than greater regulation:

The better solution is structural -- to split the utility banking, the boring bit of the system that meets our daily needs in terms of paying bills and receiving salaries, from the casino. After all, when you think it through, utility banking is not boring at all. Technology is creating a revolution in financial services: it is easy to envisage a world in which all payments can be made with the wave of a card or the click of a mouse, and cash is only used for illegal transactions.

 

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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