Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Our response to the pensions challenge is still locked in its infancy (Daily Telegraph)

Ed Balls has won praise for addressing Britain’s old age problem, but he must go further, says Mary Riddell. 

2. Labour’s great surrender on public spending (Times)

By accepting Osborne’s spending plans it’s clear that all the main parties will have to make dramatic cuts, writes Daniel Finkelstein. 

3. The overstated inflation danger (Financial Times)

A high rate may be a risk in the very long run – but right now the risk is that it may be too low, writes Martin Wolf.

4. To combat tax avoidance, tough talk is not enough (Guardian)

David Cameron must deliver a concrete plan of action at the G8 summit, says Margaret Hodge. It's a crucial test of his leadership.

5. Erdogan’s focus should be his own party (Financial Times)

The real action will now take place in the Turkish prime minister’s AKP, writes David Gardner.

6. NSA surveillance: The US is behaving like China (Guardian)

Both governments think they are doing what is best for the state and people, says Ai Weiwei. But, as I know, such abuse of power can ruin lives.

7. Thames Water avoiding tax is the final insult (Daily Mail)

These firms have exploited Britain’s soft-touch regulation, and the fear of successive governments of intervening to protect consumers, writes Alex Brummer. 

8. Once again, the nationalists decide independence is all about sharing (Daily Telegraph)

Picking and choosing on pensions shows the SNP's determination to pretend breaking up Britain would be pain free, says Alan Cochrane. 

9. Time for a rethink on GM crops (Independent)

The dire prophecies of Frankenstein foods have not come to pass, says an Independent editorial. 

10. Tax cutters should welcome a bit of state intervention (Times)

Social breakdown drives much of the growth in spending, writes Ruth Porter. 

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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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