UK Prime Minister David Cameron is hoping to gain the support of US President Barack Obama in his campaign-year crusade to outlaw encrypted communications his spies can't break, sources claim.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Conservative Cameron would like to see left-leaning Obama publicly criticize major US internet companies like Facebook and Google, many of which have made strong encryption the default on their online services.
The President hasn't taken a public position on the issue so far, but several prominent federal law enforcement officials have given internet firms lashings over their use of encryption tech, which they claim undermines national security interests.
Last September, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey went as far as to describe encrypted communications as "something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law."
According to the WSJ's sources, Cameron plans to try to nudge Obama "in the direction of what the FBI has said about this."
He'll get his chance on Thursday and Friday of this week, when he will sit down with the President for a chinwag at the White House on cyber-security issues.
Those talks will more than likely include discussions on how to avoid future network security breaches like the one that hammered Sony Pictures in December, but you can bet Cameron's anti-encryption hobbyhorse will figure prominently, as well.
In a speech on Monday, Cameron said the UK government should have the ability to read any and all national communications. "Are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn't possible to read? No. We must not," he said, although he stopped short of explaining just how the government would prevent that.
Whether he will find a sympathetic ear in President Obama is unclear. The US leader has said that he plans to outline new cybersecurity measures this week in advance of his State of the Union Address on January 20, but part of his agenda reportedly will involve "tackling identity theft and improving consumer and student privacy" – which surely can't mean doing away with crypto.
Cameron's views haven't exactly met with universal approval at home, either. On Tuesday, the Internet Services Providers' Association (ISPA) trade group weighed in on the matter, saying Cameron's plan to restrict encryption "risks undermining the UK's status as a good and safe place to do business."
"ISPA accepts that the communications landscape is changing but an independent, Government-commissioned review is being led by David Anderson QC into investigatory powers," the group said in a statement. "This is the sort of considered and informed process, listening and involving the various stakeholders, that we hope will inform and develop policy in this area." ®
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