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Five Eyes calls on tech sector to 'do the right thing'

Paul Brislen, Editor. 03 September 2018, 7:05 am

The spy agencies of the so-called Five Eyes group (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US and UK) have called on IT companies to "voluntarily establish lawful access solutions to their products and services" as intelligence organisations struggle with encrypted communications.

Ministers, officials and attorneys-general of the five nations met late last month in Australia to discuss encryption and the need for messaging services like those involved in iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook and others to be made hackable, by the right people of course.

In the meeting's report, it's "Statement of Principles on Access to Evidence and Encryption" the group says it respects the right to privacy.

"The Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are committed to personal rights and privacy, and support the role of encryption in protecting those rights. Encryption is vital to the digital economy and a secure cyberspace, and to the protection of personal, commercial and government information."

There is, of course, a caveat to that.

"However, the increasing use and sophistication of certain encryption designs present challenges for nations in combatting serious crimes and threats to national and global security."

And from there the spectre of child pornography rears its inevitable head.

"Many of the same means of encryption that are being used to protect personal, commercial and government information are also being used by criminals, including child sex offenders, terrorists and organized crime groups to frustrate investigations and avoid detection and prosecution."

The move comes after Australian politicians introduced legislation that will require service providers to work with intelligence agencies to allow access to private messages. While the Australian government is quick to point out this isn't some kind of "back door" access to the services on offer, opponents are quick to call it a "front door" access, that leaves aside technical issues and puts all the onus and pressure on the service providers themselves.

New Zealand was represented by the Minister for GCSB and NZSIS, Andrew Little, who focused more practically on the need to defend against state-sponsored cyber attacks.

New Zealand's role in the Five Eyes group has come under attack in recent months from a former CIA analyst who claims New Zealand is a "soft underbelly" for alleged Chinese attempts to infiltrate New Zealand political parties.

The Five Eyes meeting also sets out the various initiatives the group would like to see technology companies implement.

These include:

  • Developing and implementing capabilities to prevent illegal and illicit content from being uploaded, and to execute urgent and immediate takedown measures when there is an upload.
  • Deploying human and automated capabilities to find and remove legacy content.
  • Investing more on automated capabilities and techniques, including photo DNA tools, to detect, remove and prevent reupload of illegal and illicit content.
  • Building user safety into the design of all online platforms and services.

Quite what will happen if such steps aren't taken remains to be seen.


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