Recently, a leaked document revealed that several European Union member countries are advocating for the ban on communication encryption. This is a serious privacy concern for the millions of people living within the European Union. This document contains insights from a survey conducted by the European Council. This document revealed the spread of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in Europe is becoming a serious concern among the member countries. The survey got officials’ views on enforcing a controversial law aimed to scan encrypted messages for illegal content.
67 page leaked document (linked at end of article) showing EU Members considering to break encryption is alarming and worrisome.
The proposed law wants tech companies to scan their platforms continuously. This scanning may include users’ private chats, messages, images, and documents. The purpose of this scanning is to identify illegal content in private conversations among people. However, technology, privacy, and cryptography experts criticized this proposal due to its potential impact on user privacy over the web. The leaked document is attached at the end of the article.
End-to-End Encryption and its Importance
End-to-end encryption is a security feature that ensures that only the sender and receiver can access the content within a two-way communication. The feature ensures that third parties like scammers, government, or even platform providers can’t access the communication contents. For example, if you use WhatsApp, you must have seen this message when starting a chat: “Messages and calls are end-to-end-encrypted. No one outside of this chat, not even WhatsApp, can read or listen to them.” That’s how end-to-end encryption is necessary for user security. Here are a few encrypted messaging platforms.
As the world of the internet is exploding, online security and privacy are some rising concerns. The platforms providing end-to-end encryption are preferred over those not providing it. Cryptography and technology experts believe that eliminating this security feature can pose risks to user privacy. They have repeatedly expressed that taking such steps may not effectively protect children but instead harm the digital safety of end users.
Background on Encryption Debate
European Union member states are concerned over whether end-to-end encryption should be protected as a fundamental right to privacy or weakened to prevent criminals from performing illegal activities. The leaked document sheds light on the position of countries and their take on encryption and online privacy.
Denmark and Ireland expressed their support for scanning encrypted messengers for child abuse content, meanwhile also advocating for the protection of end-to-end encryption. However, the feasibility of such scanning without breaking end-to-end encryption’s security features is still questionable. Belgium initially commented that encryption should be weakened, but later retracted its statement. The Netherlands threw a suggestion of “on-device” scanning before the encryption actually takes place. However, experts believe that maintaining both encryptions and scanning for abusive content may not be possible.
However, Countries like Finland, Estonia, and Germany expressed their concerns over these implications. They asked for revising the draft law to preserve the security and privacy of internet users.
Extreme Position of Spain
Around 20 European Union countries were listed in the leaked document. Among these, the majority seemed to be supporting some form of scanning encrypted messages. However, among all, Spain stood out as the most extreme country, believing that end-to-end encrypted messages should be constantly scanned for potential security concerns. Spain even suggested the decryption of encrypted communications.
Support to Scan Encrypted Messages
The leaked document also revealed that EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson strongly supports the proposal to scan private end-to-end encrypted messages and calls to avoid illegal activities. Concluding, 15 out of the 20 countries included in the list expressed their support for scanning encrypted messages to counter child abuse issues. As the majority of countries are considering the breaking of encryption a crucial tool as a remedy against child exploitation, the future of end-to-end encryption features is becoming questionable. These countries also emphasized the important implication of the proposed law to ensure that end-to-end encryption does not support the reporting of CSAM material.
Insights from Experts
Experts who reviewed the document expressed their concerns over the proposal of reshaping the encryption and future of online privacy. According to them, prohibiting end-to-end encryption for everyone would not only question the online user but would also be utterly ineffective in achieving the main goal of protecting children. Breaking end-to-end encryption could introduce vulnerabilities that could be a big question mark on users’ privacy, they added.
Experts have criticized several countries, including Spain, Hungary, Cyprus, and Poland for their shallow understanding of encryption features. These countries support law enforcement to access encrypted messages. Such comments from the member countries raised concerns about the future of user privacy and the misuse of decryption capabilities over the web.
Verification and Comments of Member Countries
When all 20 member states mentioned in the document were reached out and questioned for their comments, none denied its veracity. Estonia confirmed that its position in the list was compiled by experts working within the related fields and various ministries within the country. The leaked document also represents the views of the Law Enforcement Working Party, a group of the European Union Council responsible for law enforcement perspectives on legislation.
Potential Consequences of Eliminating Encryption
Cryptography and security experts warned that introducing backdoors or decryption capabilities into encrypted communications can compromise overall user security. It can provide opportunities for malicious activities and can open doors to exploit the same vulnerabilities. Despite several nations like Italy, Finland, and Germany supporting encryption, clear guidelines are still required. It’s also important to ensure that the technologies used can combat CSAM without compromising online security or questioning constitutional rights.
A leaked document provided valuable insights into European Union member states’ take on encryption regulation. The listed member countries’ views on the scanning of private messages for illegal content were shared. The majority of countries expressed their support for scanning encrypted communications as a necessary measure to combat child abuse. However, the experts expressed their concerns over breaking end-to-end encryption which can have extreme consequences and undermine user privacy. The debate over encryption continuation or finding some alternative approach addressing the concerns of both privacy and security remains a challenge.
The Leaked Document
Here is the leaked document. You yourself can give it a read.