CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. The coalition doesn't want to heal Britain's broken leg, but amputate it (Guardian)

Gary Younge says the left must show this for the elective surgery it is: cuts born of ideology, in which the many pay for a crisis created by the rich.

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2. Women on top? You've got to be joking (Independent)

For at least 20 years, says Mary Ann Sieghart, we have been fed the line that the "future is female". But the future has always failed to materialise.

3. Let's face it, not all of us have an inner tycoon (Times)

Unemployed graduates should start their own businesses, according to David Willetts. But, as Libby Purves points out, not every bright, skilled and hardworking person is business-savvy.

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4. Obama has angered the centre and the left (Financial Times)

The economy is struggling and the US president's political judgement is at fault, argues Clive Crook -- he disappointed the left by not going far enough, but alienated the centre by apologising to the left, rather than repudiating it.

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5. Obama's untold story (Guardian)

Barack Obama's problems stem from the 9.5 per cent US unemployment rate, says Michael Tomasky. But Democrats are failing to convey effectively to voters that their efforts have actually made the economy stronger.

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6. Illiteracy is bad for us -- so why don't we do something about it? (Daily Telegraph)

The best way to teach reading and writing must be settled once and for all, says Boris Johnson, who discusses the merits of the phonics system.

7. Let the ocean's "oil-eaters" do their work (Times)

Matt Ridley looks at the BP disaster, and previous oil disasters, concluding that the environmental threats that matter are the slow, continuous ones, not the telegenic sensations.

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8. A bunch of mediocre wastrels (Independent)

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argues for the abolition of the monarchy, wrong in practice and principle. It binds the British people and their institutions into dependency and voluntary subservience.

9. Back to square one in Afghanistan (Guardian)

A recent poll of 500 men in Afghanistan showed that 65 per cent believe Mullah Omar should join the government. Afghans know full well what their future holds, says Peter Preston -- and it doesn't involve us.

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10. Why the battle is joined over tightening (Financial Times)

To tighten or not to tighten? Martin Wolf runs through the main arguments, both from those who vehemently oppose government deficits, and from those who believe fiscal tightening should be postponed.

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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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