India and Japan join Five-Eyes push to break end-to-end encryption

India and Japan join Five-Eyes push to break end-to-end encryption

Public safety concerns mooted.

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The continuing effort by the Five-Eyes intelligence alliance to introduce backdoors in end-to-end encryption used to secure communications between messaging app users has received a boost with India and Japan joining the campaign.

In a statement published this weekend, the US, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and Japan called for legal access to content in a readable and usable format where necessary, subject to strong safeguards and oversight.

However, such access must not come at the cost of weakened security for users, the seven countries said.

"We, the undersigned, support strong encryption, which plays a crucial role in protecting personal data, privacy, intellectual property, trade secrets and cyber security," the countries wrote.

"Encryption also serves a vital purpose in repressive states to protect journalists, human rights defenders and other vulnerable people, as stated in the 2017 resolution of the UN Human Rights Council.  

"Encryption is an existential anchor of trust in the digital world and we do not support counter-productive and dangerous approaches that would materially weaken or limit security systems."

Well-implemented strong end-to-end encrypted communications between messaging apps is in most cases impossible for law enforcement to intercept.

Technology companies have resisted government-led pushes to introduce backdoors or otherwise weaken end-to-end encryption, saying doing so would put users at risk of having their sensitive communications intercepted by criminals and repressive regimes.

That argument has, however, fallen on deaf ears with the Five-Eyes nations, and now India and Japan as well.

The Five-Eyes nations and India and Japan warned that the use of end-to-end encryption severely undermines companies' own ability to indentify and respond to violations of their terms of service.

This, along with law enforcement being unable to access content, creates severe risks to public safety, the officials argued.

It is not clear from a technical perspective how lawful interception of end-to-end encrypted communications could be done securely, but the seven countries called on technology companies to work with governments on providing solutions for the seemingly intractable problem.

Australia already has laws mandating provider assistance to break encryption, and state police have even attempted to use these against overseas companies.

China, meanwhile, is taking a different approach and is reported to have blocked newer encryption protocols such as Transport Layer Security 1.3 and the Server Name Indication (ESNI) extension, which would warn users that their communications are being intercepted.

Russia is said to be considering similar measures by banning a range of security protocols considered to be too hard to break.

Australia's minister of home affairs, Peter Dutton is a signatory to the statement along with New Zealand minister of justice Andrew Little, British home secretary Priti Patel, Canada's minister of public safety Bill Blair and the US Attorney General Bill Barr. 

India and Japan did not name the officials who signed the statement.

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