Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-reads from this morning's comment pages.

  1. We protested against violence in Gaza, but this time we weren't called traitors (Guardian
    Step by step, the protests of the radical Israeli left can help to change fossilised political attitudes, writes Joshua Sobol.
  2. Call a truce, before centuries of free speech are brought to an end (Telegraph)
    With MPs eager to take power over the press, the Prime Minister must lead them back from the cliff edge, argues Fraser Nelson.
  3. A scheme designed to net trillions from global tax havens is being scuppered (Guardian)
    Switzerland and other offshore specialists are doing their best to frustrate international transparency in taxation, writes Nicholas Shaxson
  4. Why is Barack Obama swanning around Asia as the Middle East goes up in flames? (Independent)
    The most clear-sighted and intellectual President in a century or more is in the wrong place, writes Adrian Hamilton
  5. EU budget: it is selfish of Eurosceptics to try to force David Cameron’s hand (Telegraph)
    With Europe on the brink, now is the time for magnanimity, not self-serving posturing, writes Peter Oborne.
  6. Britain’s policy echoes Habsburg decline (Financial Times, £)
    The main message of the Bank of England’s recent inflation report is that the outlook is gloomy and the risks are on the downside, but nothing much can be done about it, argues Samuel Brittan.
  7. Doping prisoners harms them – and us too (Telegraph)
    Treating inmates with drugs such as methadone is a sure way to increase crime, writes Will Self
  8. Don’t underestimate Miliband. He’s like Attlee (Times, £)
    I’ve known all the Labour leaders back to 1935. This one understands the need for unity, writes William Rees-Mogg
  9. My dear old mother, women bishops and a Monty Python moment that could sink the C of E (Daily Mail)
    "My fear is that the triumphant, zealous minority in the House of Laity may have hastened the Church of England's transformation from a national institution into an exclusive, unwelcoming sect for the religious", writes Tom Utley
  10. The Palestinians need business – not bombs (Times, £)
    A thriving West Bank and Gaza would have no truck with religious extremists who threaten their prosperity, argues Philip Collins
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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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