Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Brass tax (The Times)
Tax avoidance harms the economy - this week's developments have been welcome, says a Times editorial

2. Cameron and Chakrabarti treat press freedom as sacred (Independent)
But aren't some things more important, asks Howard Jacobson

3. Michael Gove does not deserve to be hailed as a rising star (Guardian)
His policies are bad for children and a waste of money, says Peter Wilby

4. A lot of froth over Starbucks (Telegraph)
The row over multinational tax affairs is a distraction from reducing state spending, says a Telegraph leader

5. Pay shake-up offers hope to the regions (Mail)
There's been a step towards closing the divide between the south east and the rest of Britain, says a Daily Mail leader

6. Things can only get worse. Vote Tory. (The TImes)
If Osborne brings recovery, he'll lose the next election for his party, says Matthew Parris

7. Syria and the truth about chemical weapons (Independent)
Do you know which army was the first to use gas in the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk

8. The search for paedophiles is more carnival than witch-hunt (Guardian)
Light entertainment is being turned upside down by a raucous mob, says Hannah Betts

9. David Cameron's trouble with being modern (Telegraph)
The PM must adapt, but he risks ignoring what is important, argues Charles Moore

10. Clegg is oblivious of the damage of high taxation to growth (Daily Mail)
The Deputy Prime Minister is a disaster for Britain, says Robin Harris

Morning Call
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