GCHQ Boss Slammed for Claiming Web Services are C&C Networks for Criminals

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Rights groups and technology companies have rejected claims made by GCHQ boss Robert Hannigan this week that online services have effectively become the “command and control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals.”

The spy agency director argued in an FT piece on Monday that groups like Isis are getting increasingly adept at using social media and other web-based channels to spread their propaganda without triggering in-built filters.

He added that the increased availability of cheap or free mobile encryption and anonymisation technologies have also made the job of staying hidden online easier, and called for “better arrangements for facilitating lawful investigation by security and law enforcement agencies than we have now.”

“As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the spectacular creation that is the world wide web, we need a new deal between democratic governments and the technology companies in the area of protecting our citizens,” Hannigan claimed.

However, rights groups soon voice their opposition.

Open Rights Group executive director, Jim Killock, branded Hannigan’s comments as “divisive and offensive” given the claims asserted by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that GCHQ has been engaged in mass surveillance of the British population.

“If tech companies are becoming more resistant to GCHQ's demands for data, it is because they realise that their customers' trust has been undermined by the Snowden revelations,” he said in a statement.

“It should be down to judges, not GCHQ nor tech companies, to decide when our personal data is handed over to the intelligence services.”

Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, expressed disappointment at Hannigan’s words.

“GCHQ’s dirty games – forcing companies to handover their customers’ data under secret orders, then secretly tapping the private fibre optic cables between the same companies’ data centers anyway – have lost GCHQ the trust of the public, and of the companies whose services we use,” he said.

“Robert Hannigan is right, GCHQ does need to enter the public debate about privacy - but attacking the internet isn’t the right way to do it.”

Meanwhile, Julian David, CEO of tech trade association techUK, rejected any new deal between technology companies and governments as proposed by Hannigan and said his members were not in denial about the abuse of online services by criminals and terrorists.

“He is wrong to suggest that this is an issue that technology companies are in denial about,” he said, according to The Telegraph.

“As we made clear in our recent tech manifesto, technology firms which we represent have important legal obligations to work with government to help keep the UK safe and secure which they take extremely seriously.”  

The Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA) has also branded Hannigan’s comments as “wrong and ill-judged.”

However, at least Hannigan has friends in the US. Both attorney general Eric Holder and FBI director James Comey have argued against mobile platform providers offering strong encryption as standard on devices.

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