Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Falkirk has revealed the rotten state of all our political parties (Guardian)

Falling membership has allowed small cliques to control our politics, writes John Harris. It's a failed model, but the powerful like it that way.

2. This attack on Labour’s union links must not succeed (Independent)

These union-bashers are beholden to private interests, and want Labour to be, too, says Owen Jones.

3. Abu Qatada’s case shows the human rights system works (Times)

Could you bear your country sending a man to a torture chamber, asks Adam Wagner. 

4. Weary US consumer shoulders a big load (Financial Times)

With China slowing, Europe still stuck and Japan in doubt, America has a heroic task, says Edward Luce.

5. Andy Murray: a victory which is his alone (Guardian)

He referred to himself as a British champion while Alex Salmond rather unnecessarily waved the saltire from the royal box, notes a Guardian editorial.

6. Who wants a PM who has no fight in him? (Times)

In dealing with unions Ed Miliband settled for a quiet life, writes Tim Montgomerie. But voters won’t stand for high taxes and a bloated state.

7. We British go out of our way to avoid using the word ‘Muslim’ (Independent)

If reporters avoid using the word, we also risk missing out on the positive side of religious identity, says Robert Fisk. 

8. As Britain dithers, the rest of the world is getting things done (Daily Telegraph)

Our great projects are being stalled by endless consultations and grinding bureaucracy, writes Boris Johnson.

9. What makes a 'real African'? (Guardian)

Too often the continent's writers are quizzed about their identity rather than the world they create, says Maaza Mengiste. 

10. Help business by taxing  profits abroad (Financial Times)

The US should eliminate the distinction between foreign corporate profits, writes Lawrence Summers.

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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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