Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Cameron's 'historic' speech proves he's the latest leader to lose control of his party over Europe (Independent)

The Prime Minister's chaotic approach will leave him even more at the mercy of events and his party’s willful insurrectionaries, writes Steve Richards.

2. Blair has failed in the Middle East and should quit (Daily Telegraph)

It’s easy to see what the former Labour prime minister gets out of his role as Middle East envoy, but harder to see what he gives back, says Peter Oborne.

3. Banks and bonuses: gaming the public (Guardian)

George Osborne suggested he could withhold government work from miscreant banks - now it is time for action, says a Guardian editorial.

4. Even if everything’s free, there can be a price (Times) (£)

The death of hacker Aaron Swartz reveals a young generation unaware of its own great power – or responsibilities, writes David Aaronovitch.

5. Are ministers too scared to say what they know about the next wave of migrants? (Daily Mail)

In refusing to disclose the number of migrants expected to arrive from Romania and Bulgaria, the government is treating us like children, says Stephen Glover.

6. Hong Kong sees the light through a haze (Financial Times)

The city is finally addressing its pollution problem but is not going far enough, says David Pilling.

7. Referring Syria to the international criminal court is a justified gamble (Guardian)

An international criminal court investigation may split the United Nations – but it would change the civil war's political dynamics, writes Philippe Sands.

8. Battle lines drawn in Whitehall’s phoney war (Daily Telegraph)

There’s always tension between ministers and mandarins, but strong leaders see it through, says Sue Cameron.

9. The west must plan for an arc of uncertainty (Independent)

The collapse of the state in a nuclear Pakistan is a prospect that must be addressed, says an Independent editorial.

10. Ending the culture of US gun violence (Financial Times)

Obama must try to break the NRA’s grip on national politics, says an FT editorial.

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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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