Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. If we can't afford for people to be disabled, what's the plan? (Guardian)

Those with the greatest needs comprise 2% of the population yet are taking 15% of cuts, writes Zoe Williams. That's more than a loss of dignity.

2. Drinking yourself to death is not a right (Financial Times)

Societies should try to limit alcoholism and obesity, as they have with tobacco use, says John Gapper.

3. Papal conclave: the man from the end of the world (Guardian)

The appointment of Pope Francis is a recognition that the church's future lies not in Europe, or not only in Europe, says a Guardian editorial.

4. Hollande, Cameron and how not to be a leader (Independent)

The French President appears too relaxed, while our PM has the opposite problem, writes Andreas Whittam Smith.

5. The EU’s insidious war on the nation state must be halted (Daily Telegraph)

As a voice of fairness and free trade, Britain can help to remodel the future of Europe, argues Jesse Norman.

6. Germany has one last chance to really save the eurozone (Guardian)

The eurozone's largest economy must try harder, says Timothy Garton Ash. It has far more to lose from a collapse than any other country.

7. A new battle is commencing against the concreting of the English countryside (Daily Mail)

The government’s stance on planning mocks David Cameron’s professed commitment to localism, says Max Hastings. 

8. No 10’s new PR man has Whitehall in a spin (Daily Telegraph)

Alex Aiken has ruffled feathers with a full-on critique of the civil service’s performance, writes Sue Cameron.

9. This pandering to religion can only harm us (Times) (£)

Gender segregation at a small meeting at a British university tells a larger story – of a line we must never cross, writes David Aaronovitch.

10. Beware monetary experimentation (Financial Times)

A little well-targeted fiscal relaxation feels less risky at this stage, writes Martin Taylor.

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