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Ex-MI5 Boss Evans: Don’t Undermine Encryption

A former head of MI5 has argued against undermining end-to-end encryption in messaging apps like WhatsApp, claiming it will damage broader cybersecurity efforts.

Jonathan Evans, who left the secret service in 2013 and is now a crossbencher in the House of Lords, made the comments in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Friday.

Despite recognizing that end-to-end encryption has helped terrorists hide their communications from the security services, he distanced himself from outspoken critics of the technology, such as home secretary Amber Rudd.

“I’m not personally one of those who thinks we should weaken encryption because I think there is a parallel issue, which is cybersecurity more broadly,” Evans argued.

“While understandably there is a very acute concern about counter-terrorism, it is not the only threat that we face. The way in which cyber-space is being used by criminals and by governments is a potential threat to the UK’s interests more widely.”

He argued that undermining encryption would actually make countless consumers and businesses less secure, and the country’s economy as a whole worse off.

“It’s very important that we should be seen and be a country in which people can operate securely. That’s important for our commercial interests as well as our security interests, so encryption in that context is very positive,” said Evans.

“As our vehicles, air transport, our critical infrastructure is resting critically on the internet, we need to be really confident that we have secured that because our economic and daily lives are going to be dependent on the security we can put in to protect us from cyber-attack.”

Evans also had something to say about allegations of Russian interference in elections, claiming that he “would be surprised” if there’d been no attempts to sway UK votes in the past.

The former MI5 boss is not the first expert to have argued against the government forcing providers to undermine encryption so that the security services can access suspected terrorists’ comms.

Former GCHQ boss Robert Hannigan claimed in July that so-called “backdoors” in such services are “a threat to everybody” and that “it’s not a good idea to weaken security for everybody in order to tackle a minority”.

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