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EU Pushes for Greater Surveillance Powers with Proposed Ban on Encryption

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For years, lawmakers have tried to access privileged data from private companies in a bid to fight crime. However, the European Union appears to have gone a little too far in its latest draft proposal, with criticism coming from several angles.

Clamping Down on Terrorism

According to a report earlier this week from the Associated Press, lawyers at the European Union have filed a draft proposal seeking access to encrypted messages and conversations on top mobile messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Signal.

Per a draft obtained by the news source, the lawyers had claimed that this initiative would help them strike a proper balance between “privacy and law enforcement.” The objective is to ensure that competent authorities can gain access to data that aids in investigations, while also respecting fundamental data protection rights. 

“Technical solutions for gaining access to encrypted data must comply with the principles of legality, transparency, necessity, and proportionality,” the draft summarized. 

The move appears to be part of an attempt to pre-empt terrorist attacks, which Europe has recently suffered from, to gain access to encrypted chats. Last week’s shooting in Vienna led to the death of four people and 23 others injured. The attack happened at a famous nightlife spot known as the Bermuda Triangle, and the perpetrator is said to have randomly opened fire at people.

France has also seen a significant surge in the number of radical Islamist killings. Last month, an attack on a Church in Nice led to the death of three people. The attackers were said to have beheaded their victims, although police managed to shoot and detain a suspect. Instances like these have placed law enforcement officials in the EU on high alert.

French President Emmanuel Macron has reportedly upped the amount of security on the streets, with other countries monitoring their local situations to avoid explosions of terrorist attacks on their home soil. 

However, law enforcement agencies appear to be taking things further by seeking methods to spy on chats on instant messaging platforms. Services like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal protect their chats with end-to-end encryption, and law enforcement won’t be able to tap into them. If these tech companies don’t comply, law enforcement could essentially sidestep them.

No Way Here

While the motive appears pure, many have kicked back against this approach, claiming that it could open the doors for indiscriminate violations of privacy.

Sarah Jamie Louis, the Executive Director of Open Privacy, criticized the lawyers for its focus on sidestepping encryption. Electronic Frontier Foundation Director of Cybersecurity Eva Galperin had a similar reaction. The debate concerning tech companies and the extent to which they can cooperate with law enforcement agencies has gone on for a long time. Ever since the Apple-FBI encryption dispute, many tech companies and privacy advocates have become more aware of possible attempts from law enforcement agencies to coerce them into subjugation and are fighting it.

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