Friday

26th Feb 2021

EU Commission mulls police access to encrypted apps

  • EU Commission wants a regulation on encyrption (Photo: Yuri Samoilov)

The European Commission may introduce new EU-rules on end-to-end encryption, possibly allowing police to crack into platforms like WhatsApp or Signal.

"In my view, we need EU regulation in this area but this is why we need to find a right balance before we come with any proposals on that," Ylva Johansson, the EU home affairs commissioner, told reporters on Wednesday (8 December).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

When pressed, Johansson would not dismiss ideas of allowing police access. She added any discussion on the issue needs to be held "in full transparency."

Her views were echoed by European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas.

"I do not see as incompatible the quest for security and our interest to catch the bad guys," he said, noting a balance needs to be struck to ensure rights are respected.

Striking that balance has put civil society on edge.

Inserting backdoors into such platforms, critics say, could make the lives of human right defenders and journalists in authoritarian states much more precarious.

Others say law enforcement can also gain access, by instead demanding courts to release information stored on both servers and end devices.

"Any effort to mandate security flaws in technical systems will empower criminals and malicious state actors," warned NGOs Access Now and the European Digital Rights, in a joint statement.

But EU member states are piling on the pressure anyway.

The council, representing member states, introduced a draft resolution on encryption last month.

It defended the need for strong encryption but also stated that law enforcement "must be able to access data in a lawful and targeted manner."

That has put the commission in a wait-and-see mode.

"Let's wait first for the resolution to be voted and then we will see what is there," said Schinas.

Grim increase in online child sex-abuse

The whole comes amid wider debate on allowing social media platforms like Facebook and Google to track down and remove child sexual abuse content.

New EU wide rules under the so-called ePrivacy Directive, scheduled to take affect on 20 December, will make that task more difficult.

The European Commission has since introduced temporary derogations, currently being debated among the co-legislators, that would allow them to continue tracking and removing the content.

Reports of online child sexual abuse in the EU have increased from 23,000 in 2010 to more than 725,000 in 2019, says the commission.

"If we do not take measures with new temporary legislation, they cannot continue to detect this material, report it and take it down," said Johansson, adding a "more permanent solution" is needed.

Privacy issues are complicating the efforts.

The European Data Protection Supervisor weighed in on the issue last month, noting "confidentiality of communications is a cornerstone of the fundamental rights to respect for private and family life."

They said even voluntary measures by private companies constitute an interference with these rights and warned against the adoption of the commission's derogations on the rules.

Meanwhile, an EU directive introduced in 2011 on combating child abuse, has been fully implemented into national by only two EU states.

EU to target migrant integration and encrypted apps

Migrants ought to learn EU languages and "integrate" their children, while encrypted messaging apps should give keys to authorities to combat terrorism, EU ministers are preparing to say.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

LGBTI fears over new Polish member at EU institution

A letter sent to the European Economic and Social Committee by a group of cross-party MEPs fighting for LGBTi rights expresses fears that a recently-appointed Polish member may try to undermine those rights.

News in Brief

  1. Rights group exposes Ethiopia massacre
  2. US carried out airstrikes against Iran-backed militia in Syria
  3. Malta closes investigation into journalist murder
  4. Dutch parliament calls China treatment of Uighurs genocide
  5. Spain fined €15m by ECJ over data failures
  6. Belarus: Anti-government protester jailed for 10 years
  7. German charged with spying for Russia in Bundestag
  8. Heavy earthquakes in Iceland trigger volcanic activity

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. Armenia 'coup' shows waning of EU star in South Caucasus
  2. 'Difficult weeks' ahead, as variants spread across EU
  3. EU top court advised to strike down Hungary's asylum policy
  4. Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency
  5. Is EU poised to solve child labour in 'green' batteries?
  6. The trap of spreading ideas while attacking them
  7. Who are the EU's new Russian deplorables?
  8. Afghan asylum family beaten in Greece, set adrift at sea

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us