The European Parliament has announced its plans to enforce end-to-end encryption across all digital communications.
In direct opposition to plans being considered by the UK government, EU lawmakers want to add extra encryption to digital data, whether that’s website information, email content or messages sent through services like WhatsApp.
It’s claimed that improved encryption would protect data not just from hackers but also government surveillance.
The draft proposal – which was drawn up for the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs – aims to amend Article Seven of the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights so it covers online privacy.
The proposal reads: “The principle of confidentiality should apply to current and future means of communication, including calls, internet access, instant messaging applications, email, internet phone calls and personal messaging provided through social media.”
End-to-end encryption works by using digital keys to scramble data at the start of the journey and then reassemble it at the destination. Crucially, the service provider (such as WhatsApp) doesn’t have access to the key, meaning it couldn’t read the data travelling across its own platform even if it tried.
The EU proposal also requests that no third parties be enabled back-door access to otherwise encrypted data, as has reportedly been requested by the UK and US governments in cases involving counter terrorism.
The issue is hotly contested, not least in UK parliament. The Conservative Party in its recent manifesto argued that tech companies should provide authorities with information “as required”. Others, however, have argued that such ‘snooping’ would be a breach of privacy and put Britain one step closer to such regimes as that in North Korea, where internet usage is highly regulated.
Despite the legal wrangling that is sure to follow, cyber security expert Dr Steven Murdoch explained that current technologies could actually make the issue entirely redundant. He told the BBC that hacking (or “equipment interference” in British law) can happen “before data is encrypted and after it’s been decrypted”.
Dr Murdoch’s suggestion shows that, regardless of the decision made by EU lawmakers, the issue of encryption looks set to rumble on for some time still – and certainly not just in the courts.