Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. It’s mad to blame our housing crisis on 'blooming foreigners’ (Daily Telegraph)

Talent and investment from abroad will help create jobs and build the homes we need, says Boris Johnson. 

2. Stupid to think the Tea Party is brainless (Financial Times)

The way to deal with the movement is not through ridicule but to understand its motivation – and the fact it is not finished yet, writes Edward Luce.

3. Saving the planet from short-termism will take man-on-the-moon commitment (Guardian)

JFK's lunar vision is needed if business is to see the long-term benefits of greening the economy as well as the short-term costs, says Larry Elliott. 

4. Nick Clegg is right to reject free schools (Guardian)

Pushy parents who want to dictate how their child is educated should send them to private school, not set up a free one, says Melissa Kite.

5. Not being England isn’t a big enough vision for Scotland (Times)

Independence must be more than just a left-wing project, says John McTernan. 

6. Parliament has forsaken our liberty. Law is the last resort (Guardian)

Who sanctioned the snatching powers of the secret state? Blair? Straw? David Miliband? It's ripe for judicial review, says Chris Huhne.

7. Critics of predatory energy firms must not conflate prices with investment (Independent)

Consumers have every right to feel angered by price rises just announced, says an Independent editorial. 

8. No to Leveson! A free press is vital to protect our rights and liberties (Independent)

Press regulation will stifle local news even worse than national, says Nigel Farage. 

9. This warrior nation welcomes foreign fighters (Times)

At Trafalgar Nelson relied on outside help, writes Robert Crampton. The British Armed Forces always have.

10. A new dawn for nuclear power? (Daily Telegraph)

Once Britain led the world in atomic energy, but decades of political dithering have left Chinese and French firms in the lead, says Michael Hanlon.

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