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Most Brits Would Feel ‘Safer’ Without Encryption

Two-thirds of the British public claim the ability of police to intercept and read communications between terrorists is more important than privacy, according to a new study.

Advice site Cable.co.uk polled 2000 UK adults last week following the home secretary’s controversial and widely criticized comments that WhatsApp and other services should effectively be backdoored to allow law enforcement to monitor suspects.

Along with the headline stat, over half (51%) claimed they’d feel safer if services like WhatsApp were unencrypted, whilst only a quarter (25%) said they’d feel less safe because cyber-criminals could potentially intercept their communications.

There was a definite split between men and women and older and younger respondents in terms of those who valued privacy over police being able to intercept the communications of terror suspects.

Nearly a quarter of men (23%) compared to just 14% of women said the digital privacy of UK citizens should come first, while 26% of 25-34-year-olds felt the same, as opposed to just 10% of the over-55s.

Cable consumer telecoms analyst, Dan Howdle, claimed the danger of terrorism is statistically on a par with that posed by bees, and argued that giving police access to encrypted streams is “a futile gesture”.

“If commonly used apps such as WhatsApp and others are compromised in this way those who have the intent to do harm will simply use something even more secure,” he added.

“The government's call to access private messages is like decreeing all spoken conversations must be shouted – those who have nothing to hide will comply, while those with nefarious intent will whisper beyond our view."

In fact, as the Open Rights Group and others have pointed out, the government already has the power to force tech providers to undermine the security of their products, via the Technical Capability Notices (TCNs) which were introduced in the Snoopers’ Charter.

“We do not believe that the TCN process is robust enough in any case, nor that it should be applied to non-UK providers, and are concerned about the precedent that may be set by companies complying with a government over requests like these,” the ORG and other rights groups wrote in an open letter last week.

“We also question whether these measures are of any significant practical benefit in the fight against terrorism. When weighed up against the costs of such an approach, we doubt that measures against general encryption are likely to be proportionate. Hardened criminals are always going to be able to choose tools that offer encryption that is not compromised, because the mathematics behind encryption cannot be forgotten or unpublished. The very least we should have from government is evidence-based policy making.”

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