Europe’s top cop has taken to the BBC to once again slam encryption as the biggest threat to counter-terrorism and law enforcement.
Europol Director Rob Wainright said encrypted communications gave plods across the continent the biggest headaches, and his main gripe was with the IT companies that provide them.
“We are disappointed by the position taken by these tech firms and it only adds to our problems in getting to the communications of the most dangerous people that are abusing the internet,” he said.
He told the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament the same thing last November. Now he says there is “a significant capability gap” that must be closed.
“It’s changed the very nature of counter-terrorist work from one that has been traditionally reliant on having good monitoring capability of communications to one that essentially doesn’t provide that anymore,” he told the Beeb.
However, Wainright himself will not get his hands on any of that “capability”. According to Europol’s website, the organisation itself “has neither the technical equipment nor the legal authorisation to wiretap or monitor members of the public by any technological means”.
“Any information being analysed by Europol is provided directly by the co-operating law enforcement agencies. Europol’s principal role is to gather, analyse and re-distribute data,” he said in the interview.
That hasn’t stopped EU countries beefing up Europol with a new European Internet Referral Unit to find, identify and potentially remove websites used by terrorist groups.
National leaders across the EU have been calling for increased access to private communications since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. The European Council hopes the new unit will be up and running by June.
Meanwhile, tech companies will continue to boost end-to-end encryption after the Snowden revelations created a business case, as consumers demanded their communications be secured.
Dutch MEP Sophie In’t Veld said she found his comments (which echo those of UK PM David Cameron) extremely worrying. “What is next? Having a lock on the front door of your home being a criminal offence? Banning people from protecting their private communications is unacceptable in a democratic society. We are really on a slippery slope here.”
“Not only individual citizens have a right to privacy, but journalists, politicians, lawyers, whistleblowers, NGOs, etc must be able to communicate freely, safely and knowing they are unobserved,” she added.
“There seems to be no limit to the appetite of secret services to know EVERYTHING about us, without being subject to any meaningful kind of oversight or bound by laws,” continued In’t Veld.
“He believes all of this is caused by the ‘revelations’ on NSA mass surveillance. “One would think it was the secret and illegal mass surveillance itself, not the fact it was revealed, that has breached trust,” said In’t Veld.