Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Osborne well knows that Tories tax wealth at their peril (Financial Times)

If there are shock and awe tax cuts, there must be shock and awe tax rises too, writes Paul Goodman

2. Unemployment matters more than GDP or inflation (Guardian)

Jobless figures are the one major economic indicator that measures people, writes Mehdi Hasan. And they demonstrate the toll in misery across Europe.

3. A billion reasons to close the stamp duty loophole (Daily Telegraph)

Stamp duty avoidance by the super-rich is a scandal that is costing the country a fortune, says Boris Johnson.

4. Mr Obama must take a stand against Israel over Iran (Financial Times)

The true danger lies in the refusal to allow a viable Palestinian state, write John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.

5. Who'll fight for man in street now, Cam? (Sun)

Hilton is a loss to a nation whose political elite has surrendered to unelected and unaccountable officials in Whitehall and Europe, says Trevor Kavanagh.

6. Whitehall still needs to sharpen up its act (Daily Telegraph)

The self-serving days of 'Yes Minister' may be over, but further Civil Service reform is vital, argues Peter Riddell.

7. I fear Cameron will prove to be little more than an empty suit (Daily Mail)

Steve Hilton's departure will reveal whether Dave has any political principles of his own, says Melanie Phillips.

8. What is 'soft power'? Tune in to find out (Times) (£)

Boosting the BBC World Service, not foreign aid, is the surer way to win the respect of the poor and repressed, argues Bill Emmott.

9. The police: a chance to modernise (Guardian)

This isn't privatisation: outsourcing routine jobs will save money for more urgent, difficult areas of policing, argues Ian Blair.

10. The God-given dignity to which the Cardinal is blind (Independent)

Cardinal O'Brien has not halted the onward march of aggressive secularism, but strengthened it, says Richard Coles.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496