European debate on encrypted apps heating up with possibility of new backdoor laws

European debate on encrypted apps heating up with possibility of new backdoor laws
Image: iStock/artjazz

In Europe law enforcement agencies may be given access to encrypted data, according to announcements made by EU justice commissioner Věra Jourová, who is considering plans to share encrypted data from companies such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

According to EU policy site Euractiv, the EU commissioner is considering three or four options to enact in June. Basically, companies will need to open up their data voluntarily for police investigations, or the EU will pass laws forcing them to comply.

This comes at a time when political pressure is strong on the EU commissioner to introduce new rules to help police with investigations that require hacking into secure encryption.

"At the moment, prosecutors, judges, and police and law enforcement authorities are dependent on whether or not providers will voluntarily provide the access and the evidence. This is not the way we can facilitate and ensure the security of Europeans, being dependent on some voluntary action," Jourová said,according to Euractiv.


Putting the measures in place would make it easier for police to access data from online services such as Facebook that are registered outside the EU's jurisdiction, Jourová said, according to Euractiv.

Opponents of the measure say it is impossible to create a backdoor exclusively for law enforcement, and any breach would allow cybercriminals or unauthorized hackers access to the same data, according to Lawfare.

The attention toward WhatsApp gained intensity after the terror attack in London last week. Amber Rudd, home secretary for the UK, said that encrypted services such as WhatsApp gave terrorists a place to communicate in secret. The messaging service was also recently suspended in Brazil due to an access dispute in a criminal investigation, according to ZDNet.

The tech industry, and particularly tech giants such as Facebook and Apple, have pushed back against such intrusions in the past, most notably when Apple fought the FBI over access to an iPhone used by a terrorist in San Bernardino, Calif.

Businesses in Europe that worry about being targeted by these new laws should consider meeting with security experts to find out what they need to do to protect encrypted data from internet messaging apps.

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