Wednesday

18th Jul 2018

EU seeks to decrypt messages in new anti-terror plan

  • The EU commission is offering €500,000 to train police on getting access to encrypted information. (Photo: Daniele Zanni)

The European commission is seeking to give police greater powers to decrypt private messages as part of a wider proposal to crackdown on criminals and terrorists.

Julian King, the EU commissioner for security, told reporters on Wednesday (18 October) the plans include legal, financial, and technical measures to pry open encrypted messages.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

"We believe there is more that we can do to support law enforcement and judicial authorities when they encounter encryption," he said.

The plan involves giving the EU police agency, Europol, 86 additional staff to further develop its decryption capability.

It demands national authorities create a network of encryption experts, a "tool box of alternative investigation techniques", and a €500,000 training programme to train police.

All are aimed, within the next 16 months, at obtaining encrypted information from a seized smartphone or a computer.

Encryption is a touchy subject given demands by some governments, including the EU's own counter-terrorism coordinator, to introduce "back doors" or force operators like WhatsApp or Telegram and Messenger to hand over encryption keys to the police.

Vulnerable backdoors

Last year, a French version of French-German joint statement on counter-terrorism had called for a ban on unbreakable encryption.

In March, the UK's home secretary Amber Rudd demanded a push for enhanced access to encrypted communication tools.

But King insisted on his opposition to "backdoors", noting that such gaps would "weaken the overall security of our cyber space."

Such a view was broadly echoed in a report out on Wednesday by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe, an NGO, which noted that backdoors could be easily exploited by hackers.

Earlier this week, researchers in the Czech Republic and Slovakia uncovered serious flaws in government and corporate encryption cards, first revealed by ArsTechnica.

The Estonian government, which prides itself as a digital savvy nation, had in late August warned that some 750,000 digital identity cards are vulnerable to hackers because of the flaw.

Furthermore, the Civil Liberties Union for Europe notes that it "is far from clear that encryption is a key tool through which terrorists avoid detection."

People behind the 2015 Paris terrorists shootings had used non-encrypted mobile phones and were already known to the police, it noted.

Police also knew, before the attacks, the people involved in the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the 2005 London bombings, the 2016 twin blasts in Brussels, as well as the 2017 Manchester and London Bridge attacks.

The lack of police follow through in the lead up to some of those attacks points to a lack of resources to sift through the mountains of often useless data that has been collected.

One study found that some 97 percent of calls, messages, and data collected by a UK surveillance programme had never viewed or simply ignored by authorities, reported The Intercept.

But the EU is pressing ahead on collecting even more data, and is now pushing to open up talks with pariah governments in Egypt and Turkey to share and transfer personal data of suspected terrorists with their respective police forces.

Public spaces

Egypt was last month accused of crimes against humanity for widespread torture of dissidents. Turkey is jailing journalists and human rights activists for their links to an alleged so-called armed terrorist group.

"I am not predicting the outcome of these agreements yet. I do hope it is possible to make progress," noted King.

The EU commission is also set to propose early next year a set of rules on electronic evidence that could allow police direct access to information stored in the cloud.

Meanwhile, King announced some €18.5 million in EU security funds until the end of year to finance projects to protect public spaces from terrorist attacks.

Another €100 from regional funding will be set aside for the same effort for next year.

The idea is "to make public spaces less vulnerable without completely changing their nature," he said.

EU intelligence agency not a priority

Julian King, the EU commissioner for security, says talk of an EU intelligence agency would be a distraction from more pressing coounter-terrorism work.

Rushed US Cloud Act triggers EU backlash

EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova wants to secure compatible rules with the US when it comes to granting police access to people's personal data stored in other countries. But governance issues may complicate those efforts.

Opinion

Fighting the terrorist virus on the internet

EU home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopolous congratulates some media platforms on their efforts to take down jihadist terrorist content at the EU Internet Forum - but warns it is 'not enough to turn tide'.

EU leaders still in search of migration plan

Select EU leaders met amid rising tension over migration, with Italy's PM, who had threatened to boycott the summit, putting forward a new plans to stop boats from leaving Libya.

Feature

EU and Turkey fight for 'lost generation'

Some 300,000 school-age Syrian children in Turkey are not enrolled in classes. Fears they may end up in sweatshops or forced to beg have triggered efforts by the EU, Unicef, and the Turkish government to keep them in school.

News in Brief

  1. EU will reply 'tit for tat' to US trade measures
  2. EU Commission registers Brexit citizenship petition
  3. EU launches pre-accession probe for Albania and Macedonia
  4. Google faces multibillion euro EU fine for Android
  5. EU wants more guarantees from VW on Dieselgate fix
  6. EU to Russia: take responsibility for MH17 attack
  7. Juncker to meet Trump on 25 July
  8. EU and Japan sign trade and data deals

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us