US, UK and others push for mandatory access to encrypted data

'Five Eyes' countries still see encryption as more threat than safeguard.

Western intelligence allies are presenting a united front in their fight against encryption. The "Five Eyes" countries (US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) have issued a Statement of Principles indicating that they will push for "lawful access" to private data as often as possible. While the governments acknowledged that encryption was valuable, they argued that encrypted data use "should be rare." They hoped companies would voluntarily offer legal solutions, but vowed "technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures" to force access if the tech industry didn't cooperate.

The countries said any measures would honor privacy and oversight laws, but also contended that the same laws allowing them to search homes and cars also gave them permission to obtain any private data they deemed legally necessary. "Privacy laws must prevent arbitrary or unlawful interference, but privacy is not absolute," the group said in its statement. They also insisted that encryption was letting terrorists and crime mobs "frustrate investigations and avoid detection and prosecution."

The statement avoids directly calling for backdoors, but it otherwise reiterates what the individual Five Eyes nations have argued in the past. They want tech firms to avoid encryption when possible, or else give law enforcement and spy agencies guaranteed access to their information (while somehow denying hackers the same access). That sets up future battles with companies like Apple, which has insisted that airtight encryption is vital to privacy and that governments may be violating civil rights by mandating access to customers' data.