Consortium proposes "Crossrail 2" for London

The proposed line would connect Chelsea to Hackney through central London.

A consortium of business interests, led by Labour peer Lord Adonis has announced its proposal for "Crossrail 2" (pdf), a line stretching from the south-west of London to the north-east. It's a long way from reality at the moment — even though it has powerful friends the group has no official power, and the most optimistic projections don't see it opening until around 2035 — but it is already clear that it, or something like it, is sorely needed.

I've knocked up a rough map of the proposed route:

(I've missed magenta since the Olympics, so thought the tube map could do with some more. Click to embiggen)

The line as proposed would take a significant amount of strain off the Victoria line), with four/five intersections at Victoria, Seven Sisters, Tottenham Hale, and a joint Euston and Kings Cross St Pancras station.

(Yes, the trains would be long enough that the platform would have one end at Euston and the other at Kings Cross. Crossrail 1 has similar stations, one at Farringdon/Barbican and another at Liverpool Street/Moorgate, and even Thameslink, after its recent upgrades, has a station with entrances on both sides of the Thames.)

It would also link happily to the High-Speed 2 terminus in Euston, put a new station in the railway black-hole of inner Chelsea, and join up the two southern spurs of the Northern and District line. The consortium has clearly put a lot of thought into the plans, and if someone can be found to stump up the estimated £12bn cost, it will fix London's public transport congestion for at least, ooh, a year or so. After that, London could have its south London monorail or its cross-river tram.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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