Clegg joins Miliband in supporting state-backed press regulation

Cameron is left as the only one of the three main party leaders opposed to statutory underpinning of the new system.

Delivering his own separate Commons statement, Nick Clegg has just joined Ed Miliband in supporting state-backed regulation of the press, the central recommendation of the Leveson report. Clegg argued that changing the law was "the only way to give us all the assurance that the new regulator isn’t just independent for a few months or years, but is independent for good."

The Deputy PM said that he had concerns about the proposed changes to data protection law and the suggestion that Ofcom should independently verify the new press regulator, but otherwise welcomed Leveson's recommendations as "proportionate and workable". He rejected the claim, made by Cameron, that state involvement would blur the line between politicians and the media, arguing that the line had already been blurred under the current system of self-regulation.

Clegg concluded:

We mustn’t now prevaricate. I – like many people – am impatient for reform. And, bluntly, nothing I have seen so far in this debate suggests to me we will find a better solution than the one which has been proposed. Nor do I draw any hope from the repeated failure of pure self-regulation that we’ve seen over the last 60 years.

This leaves Cameron as the only one of the three main party leaders opposed to statutory underpinning of the new regulatory system. Should Ed Miliband succeed in forcing a vote on the Leveson report, there is now a chance that Cameron will be defeated. In addition to most Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, more than 70 Conservative MPs have publicly declared their support for state-backed regulation.

Nick Clegg said that "changing the law" was only the way to ensure the new press regulator is independent. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political 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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