Assange faces possible US indictment

Plus: rival site to WikiLeaks set to launch on Monday.

In a report from ABC News, Julian Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson has said that Assange could face indictment by the US authorities under the Espionage Act.

Robinson said: "Our position of course is that we don't believe it applies to Mr Assange, and that in any event he's entitled to First Amendment protection as publisher of WikiLeaks. And any prosecution under the Espionage Act would in my view be unconstitutional and puts at risk all media organisations in the US."

Meanwhile, protests have been planned around the world in defence of Assange, who is still in detention at Wandsworth Prison in London. Demonstrations calling for his release are happening today in Spain, the Netherlands, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico and Peru.

In yet another twist to the story, the LA Times reported yesterday that a rival to WikiLeaks, OpenLeaks, is due to launch on Monday. The site is run by original WikiLeaks staff members who resigned because of Assange's controversial methods. The crucial difference between the two organisations is that OpenLeaks will not publish information on its own, but will only make it available for others to publish.

In a statement, OpenLeaks organisers said their purpose was to be "without a political agenda except from the dissemination of information to the media, the public, non-profit organisations, trade and union organisations and other participating groups".

Sophie Elmhirst is features 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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