Web Only: the best of the blogs

The five must-read blogs from today, on Miliband, Tory co-ops and Muslim Trots.

1. Is Miliband being a bit premature about the leadership?

David Miliband's reported plan to tour the country in an effort to build support for a leadership bid is highly dangerous, argues PoliticalBetting's Mike Smithson.

2. Will Tory co-ops take off?

Conservative co-operatives are a bold idea that few workers will want to take up in practice, writes the FT's Alex Barker.

3. The Tories don't understand co-op values

Elsewhere, in a guest post at LabourList, Tessa Jowell argues that the failure of the Conservative Co-operative movement proves that the Tories have no idea what co-operative values mean.

4. My response to Fraser Nelson

Daniel Finkelstein says the Spectator editor underestimates how politically and technically difficult it would be would be for the Tories to carry out major spending cuts. "The party is not the paramilitary wing of an op-ed column," he writes.

5. Hizb ut-Tahrir and "Muslim Trots": reply to Ed Husain

Dave Osler responds to Ed Husain's New Statesman article and rejects his comparison between Islamism and Trotskyism.

 

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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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