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Germany’s approach is the opposite to what British government thinks about the use of encryption on digital platforms

Germanys new government intends to strongly defend end-to-end encryption feature on private messaging services and social media platforms, in contrast to statements from the UK and US governments which say such features could jeopardise the ongoing work to combat child abuse.

Jens Zimmermann, the digital policy expert for the Social Democrats (SPD), told Euractiv that during the recent talk over formation of the incoming coalition government in Germany, the SPD, the Greens and the FDP agreed that the government should reject “the weakening of encryption, which is being attempted under the guise of the fight against child abuse”.

Zimmermann said that regulations aimed to curb encryption, for example, those already enshrined in the EUs interim solution of the ePrivacy Regulation “contradict the character of the coalition agreement”.

“What is sometimes proposed in the ePrivacy Regulation goes far beyond what we envisage in terms of vulnerability management,” Zimmermann said.

He added that introducing backdoors in messaging or other services would undermine the goal of the coalition agreement in Germany.

This is the opposite to the way the British government views the use of end-to-end encryption in messaging apps and other digital platforms

Ken McCallum, the head of MI5, said in May that introducing end-to-end encryption into services such as Facebook Messenger and Instagram would be like giving a ‘free pass’ to terrorists and criminals.

McCallum noted that plans by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to add end-to-end encryption would hamper law-enforcement agencies’ ability to disrupt terrorist attacks and would enable criminals to operate more freely, without being visible to security agencies.

In April, Home Secretary Priti Patel also urged Facebook to “take the safety of children as seriously” as it does the business of advertising on internet.

In October, the government released a statement calling for “tech companies to ensure end-to-end encryption is not implemented in a way that erodes public safety”.

But privacy and human rights groups like the Open Rights Group (ORG) are not impressed with such arguments, stating that banning encryption is akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Last week, ORG expressed concerns over “many worrying provisions contained within the draft Online Safety Bill”, saying they would “lead to the introduction of routine and perpetual surveillance” of online communications in the UK.

The draft legislation imposes a duty of care on digital platforms to moderate user-generated content in a way that prevents users from being exposed to illegal and/or harmful stuff online. According to ORG, clauses 63-69 within Chapter 4 of the Bill give Ofcom the power to issue “Use of Technology Notices” to search engines and social media firms, which threatens to fatally undermine the use of end-to-end encryption.

“Any company that receives a Notice will be forced to use certain accredited technologies to identify terrorist and CSEA content on the platform,” it said, adding that the phrase “accredited technologies” is not clearly defined, and the draft Bill does not elaborate the techniques that an accredited technology might deploy to achieve the minimum standard. However, they would be likely to involve scanning all messages to assess their content.

“Accredited technologies will necessarily undermine end-to-end encryption,” it says. “If the tech companies are to scan all our content, then they have to be able to see it first.”

This would mean disabling end-to-end encryption or introducing backdoors, ORG argues, saying Use of Technology Notices should only apply to public messages.

It could also be a slippery slope where other states start implementing scanning regimes, demanding that the social media platforms scan posts for immoral, blasphemous, seditious or dissident content.

Source: Computing