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Echoing sentiments from across the Atlantic earlier in the year, the head of British intelligence spy agency GCHQ has made calls for greater access to mobile phones to tackle crime, stating, “privacy has never been an absolute right.”
Writing in a Financial Times editorial, Robert Hannigan argued that the industry needs to address “some uncomfortable truths” about balancing privacy against protecting citizens. “To those of us who have to tackle the depressing end of human behavior on the internet, it can seem that some technology companies are in denial about its misuse,” Hannigan wrote.
“Techniques for encrypting messages or making them anonymous which were once the preserve of the most sophisticated criminals or nation states now come as standard,” argued Hannigan, before explaining what he sees as the best outcome.
“GCHQ and its sister agencies, MI5 and the Secret Intelligence Service, cannot tackle these challenges at scale without greater support from the private sector, including the largest US technology companies which dominate the web,” Hannigan wrote, adding that if they want to meet the challenge of ‘violent extremism or child exploitation’, “it means coming up with better arrangements for facilitating lawful investigation by security and law enforcement agencies than we have now.”
“Better to do it now than in the aftermath of greater violence,” he concludes.
Ars Technica writes that Hannigan’s editorial is a plea to the American tech sector “to assist the fight against terrorism and other crimes by opening up their proprietary networks to government authorities.” The BBC notes that, as yet, “none of the major tech firms has yet responded to Mr Hannigan’s comments.”
The editorial echoes a similar warnings from FBI Director James Comey earlier in the year, where he expressed his concern for increased mobile encryption. “I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I also believe that no one in this country is beyond the law. What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law,” Comey told reporters in Washington, back in September.
“I like and believe very much that we should have to obtain a warrant from an independent judge to be able to take the content of anyone’s closet or their smartphone. The notion that someone would market a closet that could never be opened – even if it involves a case involving a child kidnapper and a court order – to me that does not make any sense,” he added.
Author Alan Martin, ESET