83 organizations and experts from 5 nations demand “Five Eyes” respect strong encryption

June 30, 2017

The following is a re-print of a letter sent by concerned organizations and individuals, including CCLA.

UPDATE: ‘Five Eyes’ governments respond to coalition demands to stop undermining encryption

Senator the Hon. George Brandis
Attorney General of Australia

Hon. Christopher Finlayson
Attorney General of New Zealand

Hon. Ralph Goodale
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of Canada

Hon. John Kelly
United States Secretary of Homeland Security

Rt. Hon. Amber Rudd,
Secretary of State for the Home Department, United Kingdom

CC:       Hon. Peter Dutton, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Australia;
Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, Canada;
Hon. Jeff Sessions, Attorney General for the United States;
Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Canada;
Hon. Michael Woodhouse, Minister of Immigration, New Zealand

June 30, 2017

To Ministers Responsible for the Five Eyes Security Community —

In light of public reports about this week’s meeting between officials from your agencies, the undersigned individuals and organizations write to emphasize the importance of national policies that encourage and facilitate the development and use of strong encryption. We call on you to respect the right to use and develop strong encryption and commit to pursuing any additional dialogue in a transparent forum with meaningful public participation.

This week’s Five Eyes meeting (comprised of Ministers from the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia) discussed “plans to press technology firms to share encrypted data with security agencies” and hopes to achieve “a common position on the extent of … legally imposed obligations on … device-makers and social media companies to co-operate.”[1] In a Joint Communiqué following the meeting, participants committed to exploring shared solutions to the perceived impediment posed by encryption to investigative objectives.[2]

While the challenges of modern day security are real, such proposals threaten the integrity and security of general purpose communications tools relied upon by international commerce, the free press, governments, human rights advocates, and individuals around the world.

Last year, many of us joined several hundred leading civil society organizations, companies, and prominent individuals calling on world leaders to protect the development of strong cryptography. This protection demands an unequivocal rejection of laws, policies, or other mandates or practices—including secret agreements with companies—that limit access to or undermine encryption and other secure communications tools and technologies.[3]

Today, we reiterate that call with renewed urgency. We ask you to protect the security of your citizens, your economies, and your governments by supporting the development and use of secure communications tools and technologies, by rejecting policies that would prevent or undermine the use of strong encryption, and by urging other world leaders to do the same.

Attempts to engineer “backdoors” or other deliberate weaknesses into commercially available encryption software, to require that companies preserve the ability to decrypt user data, or to force service providers to design communications tools in ways that allow government interception are both shortsighted and counterproductive. The reality is that there will always be some data sets that are relatively secure from state access. On the other hand, leaders must not lose sight of the fact that even if measures to restrict access to strong encryption are adopted within Five Eyes countries, criminals, terrorists, and malicious government adversaries will simply switch to tools crafted in foreign jurisdictions or accessed through black markets.[4] Meanwhile, innocent individuals will be exposed to needless risk.[5] Law-abiding companies and government agencies will also suffer serious consequences.[6] Ultimately, while legally discouraging encryption might make some useful data available in some instances, it has by no means been established that such steps are necessary or appropriate to achieve modern intelligence objectives.

Notably, government entities around the world, including Europol and representatives in the U.S. Congress, have started to recognize the benefits of encryption and the futility of mandates that would undermine it.[7]

We urge you, as leaders in the global community, to remember that encryption is a critical tool of general use. It is neither the cause nor the enabler of crime or terrorism. As a technology, encryption does far more good than harm. We therefore ask you to prioritize the safety and security of individuals by working to strengthen the integrity of communications and systems. As an initial step we ask that you continue any engagement on this topic in a multi-stakeholder forum that promotes public participation and affirms the protection of human rights.

We look forward to working together toward a more secure future.

83 civil society organizations and eminent individuals (listed below)

Access Now
Advocacy for Principled Action in Government
Amnesty International
Amnesty UK
Australian Privacy Foundation
Big Brother Watch
Blueprint for Free Speech
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)
Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Center for Democracy and Technology
Centre for Free Expression, Ryerson University
Chaos Computer Club (CCC)
Constitutional Alliance
Consumer Action
Defending Rights and Dissent
Demand Progress
Digital Rights Watch
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Frontiers Australia
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Friends of Privacy USA
Future Wise
Government Accountability Project
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship

International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG)
Internet NZ
Liberty Coalition
Liberty Victoria
Library Freedom Project
My Private Network
New America’s Open Technology Institute
NZ Council for Civil Liberties
Open Rights Group (ORG)
Niskanen Center
Patient Privacy Rights
PEN International
Privacy International
Privacy Times
Private Internet Access
Restore the Fourth
Reporters Without Borders
Rights Watch (UK)
Riseup Networks
R Street
Institute Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)
Scottish PEN
Sunlight Foundation
Tech Liberty
The Tor Project
World Privacy Forum


Brian Behlendorf | Executive Director, Hyperledger, at the Linux Foundation
Dr. Paul Bernal | Lecturer in IT, IP and Media Law, UEA Law School
Owen Blacker | Founder and director, Open Rights Group; founder, NO2ID
Thorsten Busch | Lecturer & Senior Research Fellow, University of St. Gallen
Gabriella Coleman | Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University
Sasha Costanza-Chock | Associate Professor of Civic Media, MIT
Dave Cox | CEO, Liquid VPN
Ron Deibert | The Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs
Nathan Freitas | Guardian Project
Dan Gillmor | Professor of Practice, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University
Adam Molnar | Lecturer In Criminology, Deakin University
Christopher Parsons | The Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs
Jon Penney | Research Fellow, The Citizen lab, Munk School of Global Affairs
Chip Pitts | Professorial Lecturer, Oxford University
Ben Robinson | Directory, Outside the Box Technology Ltd and Discovery Technology Ltd
Sarah Myers West | Doctoral Candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism J.M. Porup | Journalist
Lokman Tsui | Assistant Professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Faculty Associate, Berkman Klein Center)

[1]https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2017/06/25/technology/25reuters-australia-security-messaging.html and http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/how-the-turnbull-government-plans-to-access-encrypted-messages-20170609-gwoge0.html.

[2] https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/fv-cntry-mnstrl-2017/fv-cntry-mnstrl-2017-en.pdf

[3] We have included a copy of that statement and its signatories to this letter, which can also be found at https://securetheinternet.org.

[4] https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/20161220EWGFINALReport.pdf. Such efforts will affect law-abiding individuals more aggressively than malicious actors as the latter are more likely to seek out and find secure cryptographic alternatives.

[5] Discouraging the use of encryption facilitates unauthorized access to sensitive personal data, including financial and identity information, by criminals and other malicious actors. Once obtained, sensitive data can be sold, publicly posted, or used to blackmail, exploit, or humiliate an individual. Finally, at a time of ever-growing cybersecurity threats, strong encryption tools are also necessary for the work of human rights activists across the globe. See, https://citizenlab.org/2017/06/reckless-exploit-mexico-nso/; See also http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session29/Documents/A.HRC.29.32_AEV.doc.

[6] Imposing limits on the availability of strong encryption technology or requiring device manufacturers and technology firms to assist governments in gaining access to encrypted data threatens the security of international commerce and business. Economic growth in the digital age is powered by the ability to conduct business securely—both within and across borders. The largest companies in the world rely on strong encryption to ensure trust, authenticate digital interactions, protect financial transactions and their own intellectual property, and maintain the confidentiality of user data. Compelling technology companies to undermine the security of their users will inevitably undermine customer trust in those services. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/business/fallout-from-snowden-hurting-bottom-line-of-tech-companies.html. States are equally reliant on strong encryption and technical security: encryption protects the integrity of critical national infrastructure, shields sensitive government data, and preserves the confidentiality of law enforcement and intelligence investigations.

[7] A statement on encryption-based challenges to investigative capabilities issued jointly by ENISA and Europol in 2016 concluded that “intentionally weaken[ing] technical protection mechanisms to support law enforcement will intrinsically weaken the protection against criminals as well.” https://www.europol.europa.eu/publications-documents/lawful-criminal-investigation-respects-21st-century-data-protection-europol-and-enisa-joint-statement-0. An Encryption Working Group of the United States House Judiciary & House Energy and Commerce Committees observed that “any measure that weakens encryption works against the national interest.” https://judiciary.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/20161220EWGFINALReport.pdf. The former U.S. President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology concluded in late 2013 that the Government should actively encourage, rather than discourage, widespread adoption of strong cryptography, a conclusion endorsed by many of the world’s largest technology companies. https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/cryptoletter.pdf. In a draft 2017 report, the European Parliament’s LIBE committee has proposed requiring—rather than undermining—end-to-end encryption in electronic communication services: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-%2f%2fEP%2f%2fNONSGML%2bCOMPARL%2bPE-606.011%2b01%2bDOC%2bPDF%2bV0%2f%2fEN, proposed amendment 116. It should be noted that leading technical security experts have similarly concluded that exceptional state access to encrypted data cannot be achieved without a correlating exposure to malicious actors: https://www.schneier.com/academic/paperfiles/paper-keys-under-doormats-CSAIL.pdf.