No encryption back doors, says EU digital commissioner

Back door sin encryption will sooner or later lead to misuse, the EU's digital Commissioner said

Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Single Market

Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Single Market

There are no plans to require back doors in communications encryption in Europe, according to European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip. Proposals for mandatory encryption workarounds for mobile devices in the U.S. are the subject of a heated debate.

"In the European Commission we never had, and we don't have, any kind of plans to create back doors," Ansip told the European Parliament on Tuesday.

"We don't want to destroy people's trust by creating some back doors," he said, adding that if there were back doors then sooner or later somebody would misuse them.

Ansip was responding to worries voiced by Kaja Kallas, an Estonian Member of the European Parliament (MEP). "People trust each other more than ever by sharing their cars, by sharing their flats, but also by sharing content and accessing content online. But they also need to know their communication is secure," she told Ansip, adding that back doors in encryption software would greatly undermine the trust in e-commerce and the economy overall.

Kallas made her remarks during a debate about the plans for a digital single market in Europe that the Commission unveiled on May 6.

If encryption workarounds were required, law enforcement agencies would be able to easily access communications. The European Union's Counter-Terrorism Coordinator advised the Commission in January to oblige Internet and communications companies to hand over their encryption keys to provide law enforcers with an additional tool to fight crime and terrorism.

In the U.S., the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has asked the U.S. Congress to make encryption back doors in mobile devices mandatory to help fight crime.

On Tuesday, though, Apple Google and other big technology companies urged U.S. President Barack Obama to reject the proposals for encryption back doors.

Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy's security, the companies told Obama in a letter quoted from by the Washington Post, in which they also said that protecting privacy and limiting law enforcement access to encrypted data is important.

While the White House's cybersecurity coordinator said in March that there are no plans to weaken encryption in the U.S., Obama said in January that encryption should not lock out police and intelligence services.

In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron has floated a similar idea that could lead to banning encrypted online messaging services such as WhatsApp and Apple's iMessage in an effort to fight terrorism.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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