The EU wants to pass a law that bans secure encryption and introduces standard screening of private communications for child pornography material they contain. There is widespread opposition to this from various organizations.
Mass surveillance by service providers
The EU Commission plans to present the bill at the end of March. It is known that providers of e-mail, chat or other communication services are to be obliged to automatically scan all messages sent via their platform for suspicious content. Any material found would also be forwarded to the police. Specifically, this would mean the end of secure encryption in private communications as well as warrantless government mass surveillance. In particular, WhatsApp, Threema and Signal, which have been using end-to-end encryption, would be massively affected by this change and would have to convert their entire technical underpinnings – at the expense of users.
Criticism by various organizations
Criticism of this plan is coming from a variety of directions. Civil rights organizations warn against the mass surveillance described and unjustified encroachments on personal rights; digital organizations draw attention to the compromising of established security standards. 39 such organizations have now sent a letter to the EU Commission urging it to observe “requirements of proportionality and legitimacy.” Among others, the letter was signed by the initiative European Digital Rights, by the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Chaos Computer Club, the German Association for Data Protection, the Electronic Frontier Foundation or Privacy International.
The letter also calls for only targeted intrusions into privacy to be permitted under judicial supervision. Mass surveillance should be avoided. The letter also points to a credibility problem: If the EU becomes “the world leader in mass surveillance of entire populations,” it will hardly be able to raise credible objections to state mass surveillance in repressive regimes. Furthermore, EU fundamental rights, the essence of democracy and the rule of law would be undermined by the measures under discussion.
No technical solution in sight
It was also pointed out that the idea of some politicians to build an exclusive backdoor for security authorities into secure encryption was not technically feasible. In practice, this would leave only the options of secure encryption or abandoning it in favor of untargeted surveillance, which would at the same time open the doors for criminals and repressive regimes to monitor communications in the EU.
However, there is a reason for hope: a very similar plan by Apple failed a few months ago due to massive resistance from society; moreover, members of several groups in the EU Parliament have shown concerns and warned of Chinese conditions in the EU.