Europe is trying to end end-to-end encryption

Bits of Freedom is very concerned about the way the European Commission is trying to end the essence of end-to-end encryption. The day-to-day management of the EU is working on a bill that will oblige platforms to monitor your conversations. That is a direct invasion of our privacy.

The interest group writes this in an opinion piece.

The Downside of End-to-End Encryption

End-to-end encryption is in principle very simple. You write a message and send it to one of your friends. This message is encrypted, meaning only the recipient can read its contents. Anyone who intercepts the message will be presented with a disjointed mix of characters. The recipient has a unique and private key on their phone. Only he can read your message with this.

Thanks to end-to-end encryption, we enjoy our privacy even more today. After all, you are assured that the police, intelligence or security service or meddling government cannot secretly look over your shoulder and read along.

However, this merit has an important downside. It is much more difficult for investigative and enforcement authorities to track down hackers, cybercriminals, people smugglers, sex offenders and terrorists. After all, their communication is also protected and shielded by end-to-end encryption. This presents politicians and policymakers with a dilemma: should everyone enjoy free communication and privacy, or no one at all?

Client Side Device Scanning is an invasion of our privacy

The European Council, a political body made up of the heads of government of all 27 EU member states, approved a draft resolution on encryption at the end of 2020. “Access to encrypted messages is essential for successful law enforcement and criminal justice in cyberspace. In some cases, however, encryption makes it extremely difficult or even practically impossible to access evidence and analyze its contents,” the European Council said at the time.

If it is up to the European Commission, we in Europe will go one step further. The EU’s executive board is currently working on a bill that will require instant messaging services such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Apple iMessage to look over the shoulders of users. This is only possible on the recipient’s smartphone because that is where the key can be found to make secure messages readable. This form of checking is also known as Client-Side Device Scanning.

According to Bits of Freedom, this poses a major threat to our privacy. “Such an obligation means that a third party watches the messages that are actually encrypted with end-to-end encryption. The third-party is in the first instance the provider of the service. But it is also possible that if the platform thinks it has found something criminal, your name and the message will be forwarded to the police. So you can no longer assume that only the sender and the intended recipient can read the messages.”

‘Throwing out the baby with the bathwater’

The European Commission believes that such far-reaching European legislation is necessary to curb the distribution of child pornographic material. At the same time, end-to-end encryption has become an indispensable part of our daily lives in 2022. More and more chat service providers are praising their services by saying that even they can’t read our messages. This means that they have our privacy high on their list of priorities.

Bits of Freedom is happy with this development. “End-to-end encryption is one of the few technologies we can rely on to protect our most sensitive conversations (and photos and videos). This applies to people who can afford to say ‘I have nothing to hide, as well as to corporate executives who want to protect themselves against the espionage of their trade secrets or victims of sexual violence when talking to aid workers. ”

The interest group believes that European policymakers too easily ignore the benefits that end-to-end encryption offers us, both for individual citizens and society as a whole. “Tackling the sexual exploitation of children is extremely important,” acknowledges Bits of Freedom. “But we would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater if we undermined the very technology that allows us to protect ourselves with that approach.”

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