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US Attorney General calls for backdoor access to messages

Paul Brislen, Editor. 31 July 2019, 7:23 am

The US government appears to be taking a leaf from Australia's play book in demanding that all tech companies provide backdoor access to secure messaging systems in a move that pits the government there against privacy rights groups around the world.

US Attorney General William Barr says he isn't targeting corporate or government level encryption, just the every-day stuff that allows billions of people around the world to communicate securely, watch TV, buy goods online and look at their bank account details.

Speaking this week in New York, Barr said, "We are talking about consumer products and services such as messaging, smart phones, email, and voice and data applications.

There have been enough dogmatic pronouncements that lawful access simply cannot be done. It can be, and it must be."

Barr, as with many of his predecessors, believes the increase of strong encryption practices will make work much harder for law enforcement and anti-terrorism agents as they struggle to intercept communications.

He told the cyber-security conference that strong encryption, "allows criminals to operate with impunity, hiding their activities under an impenetrable cloak of secrecy. As you know, some refer to this eclipsing of the government's investigative capabilities as 'going dark,'" he said. 

"While encryption protects against cyberattacks, deploying it in warrant-proof form jeopardises public safety more generally. The net effect is to reduce the overall security of society."

The move to require backdoor access for intelligence services and law enforcement officials is largely derided among cyber security experts who point out that such a weakening of encrypted services will increase the likelihood of criminals and miscreants using the same tools to wreak havoc on the public at large.

Such backdoors and artificially induced flaws have been used in the past to exploit systems - the ransomware attack dubbed WannaCry used an exploit created by the US National Security Agency and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages around the world as more than 200,000 computers across 150 countries.


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