Five Eyes issue ultimatum to tech companies for backdoor device access

The countries participating in the “Five Eyes” intelligence partnership have issued a request for backdoor access to electronic devices which is characterized by one privacy advocate as “the most aggressive call we’ve ever seen,” the National Post reports.

Lawyer Tamir Israel of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic made the assertion after a joint communique from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the U.S. and UK.

“Privacy is not absolute,” according to the communique, and the countries “may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures to achieve lawful access solutions.”

Israel says that the governments have delivered an ultimatum to technology providers, and that it is not the case that the technological capabilities of bad actors are developing more quickly than those of law enforcement.

“Encryption is critical to safeguarding our cybersecurity, privacy and the digital economy. However, it has also created gaps for law enforcement and national security agencies,” a representative of Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in an email.

“They’re clueless. They think they can fix the problem? I don’t even know what that means,” said Ann Cavoukian, head of the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson University and former Ontario privacy commissioner, noting that creating a backdoor would compromise digital communication systems.

Australia is currently considering legislation to create a process for requesting voluntary data sharing from tech companies, a process for compelling companies to co-operate in data sharing using existing capabilities, and a mechanism to force companies to create tools which bypass device security features. The National Post notes that requiring built-in vulnerabilities was compared to leaving a house key under a doormat in a 2015 Journal of Cybersecurity article.

In 2016, the Department of Justice claimed that it required Apple to provide a backdoor to unlock a terrorists’ iPhone, but later withdrew the claim and hired a third party to break through the device’s security. Apple and U.S. law enforcement officials clashed earlier this year as the Department of Justice and FBI again attempted to make changes to encryption systems to make it easier to access data stored on mobile devices.

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