Election 2010 Lookahead: Friday 30 April

The who, when and where of the campaign.

With only six days to go until the closest election in recent times, here is what you should be looking out for today:

Labour

Gordon Brown today launches his final week message alongside the Business Secretary, Peter Mandelson, the deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, and other cabinet ministers in the West Midlands (9.30am). Later on he will be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman (see below).

 

Conservatives

William Hague is to join the Conservative candidate Rory Stewart in Penrith, where he will speak at an outdoor rally in the Market Square (5pm).

 

Liberal Democrats

Vince Cable will visit Ashfield School near Nottingham to speak to first time sixth-form voters and visit their new skills training centre alongside the Lib Dem candidate for Ashfield, Jason Zadrozny (10.30am). Lord Wallace, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman in the House of Lords, will set out Lib Dem UK defence policy at the Royal United Services Institute in London (1pm).

 

Other parties

The UK Independence Party leader, Lord Pearson, will meet and campaign with the Conservative candidate Mark Reckless, as part of the party's policy of supporting Eurosceptic candidates from other parties, at Caxton in Rochester (2pm).

 

The media

The fallout from yesterday evening's televised election debate on BBC1 with leaders of the three major parties continues apace. For a more varied diet, look to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, which includes interviews with representatives of the British National Party, Ukip, Green Party, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. There has been pressure for other parties to receive more airtime following the decision to exclude them from the three prime-time leaders' debates.

A tough week for Gordon Brown continues tonight with his interview in Jeremy Paxman Interviews: Gordon Brown on BBC1 (8.30pm).

 

Away from the campaign

The BBC presenter Adrian Chiles presents his final edition of The One Show before he moves to ITV on a four-year contract, where he will host the channel's football coverage and take over on the GMTV sofa. Chiles has been with The One Show since it first started in August 2006.

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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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