Popular protest at dubious election results in Russia

The opposition to Putin is increasingly emboldened: the latest from Moscow.

Demonstrators are thronging the streets of Moscow to protest at widespread alleged fraud in last Sunday's parliamentary elections in Russia. The Guardian puts the number of people gathered in Bolotnaya Square in the Russian capital at 50,000. The BBC has footage here.

In a blog post on the New Yorker website, Julia Ioffe describes how the Russian opposition has found its voice:

The events of the last few days have been utterly astonishing and radically different from anything Putin's Russia has seen before: thousands of young, educated, middle class Russians who have something to lose have come out into the streets simply out of a feeling of being utterly fed up, in spite of that prosperity -- and, quite probably, because of it.

As for the Kremlin, Ioffe says it's "either in denial, scared, or both":

Vladimir Putin dismissed the protests, saying that they had been instigated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, this after days of him and President Dmitry Medvedev pooh-poohing allegations of widespread, well-documented ballot stuffing and vote rigging. (The country's top election official, who openly agitates for Putin and the United Russia Party, said the series of videos of electoral fraud circulating on the Internet were filmed in residential apartments fixed up to look like polling stations.) Behind the scenes, there's been a massive Kremlin effort to lean on the media.

Whether traditional authoritarian muscle-flexing will snuff out this swelling opposition movement is uncertain. Even seasoned observers of the post-Soviet Russian scene are unsure how things will unfold.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture 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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