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US, UK governments want 'customized access' to encrypted user messages

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The Five Eyes nations have once again urged tech companies to let them freely access the users' encrypted data. (File photo)

The US and UK governments are seeking mandatory backdoors in online communication applications, asking tech companies to help them identify terrorists and child abusers by allowing “customized access” to encrypted user data.

Last week, immigration and security ministers of the Five Eyes nations -- an intelligence alliance comprising the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—gathered in Australia’s city of Gold Coast to discuss new technological challenges.

In a joint Statement of Principles, the group claimed that privacy, while necessary, was “not absolute” and did not prevent governments’ rights to freely access user information.

“The Governments of the Five Eyes encourage information and communications technology service providers to voluntarily establish lawful access solutions to their products and services that they create or operate in our countries,” the statement added.

The Five Eyes noted that instead of favoring a particular technology, “providers may create customized solutions, tailored to their individual system architectures that are capable of meeting lawful access requirements.”

The statement criticized tech companies for refusing to attend the meeting and asked them to take more responsibility for content “communicated through their platforms.”

Concluding the statement, the Five Eyes warned that they would resort to “technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures” in case the companies continued to resist their requests for accessing data.

The UK has in the past threatened tech companies over development of message encryption tools, saying they should either cooperate with security and intelligence services to solve the “problem” or face stricter laws.

British interior minister Sajid Javid repeated those warnings on Monday, saying, “I am not just asking for change, I am demanding it.”

"How far we legislate will be informed by the action and attitude that industry takes," he warned.

Faced with growing pressure, some tech giants have attempted to address the governments’ concerns without compromising the users.

 Internet search giant Google recently announced the roll out of a "cutting-edge" artificial intelligence to help review content for child pornography while software company Microsoft said it "works closely with others in industry, government and civil society to help combat its spread online."


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