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  • Global Encryption Coalition, including anonymity network Tor and Open Rights Group, call on governments around the world to protect encryption
  • Tor Executive Director says “encryption should be a right” as it allows people to “resist and fight for change”
  • Intervention comes on Global Encryption Day as legislative attempts to undermine encryption progress around the world
  • Major tech players, including WhatsApp head Will Cathcart and leading cybersecurity expert Joseph Steinberg, express support for coalition’s efforts
  • Steinberg warns opening “back doors” to encryption “undermines national security”

Today, the Global Encryption Coalition, including anonymity network Tor and Open Rights Group, is calling on governments around the world to protect encryption as legislative attempts to weaken the technology gather pace.

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Tor, which allows millions of users to access the internet without fear of surveillance or censorship, says “encryption should be a right” and Open Rights Group questions the deliverability of legislation like the UK’s controversial Online Safety Bill that proposes scanning of end-to-end encrypted communications.

This comes as a number of proposed laws that could threaten encryption progress around the world:

  • The UK’s Online Safety Bill proposes a list of new rules that puts the onus on technology companies hosting user-generated content.
  • The European Commission’s CSAM legislation introduces laws forcing technology companies to implement client-side scanning to monitor private conversations
  • India’s Telecommunication Bill proposes to circumvent private messaging if India’s sovereignty requires the government to monitor private conversations
  • Social media companies continue to face the threat of restrictions in Turkey via the Social Omnibus Bill
  • The US EARN-IT Act, which would force companies to monitor private communications, including those protected by end-to-end encryption

Isabela Fernandes, Executive Director, TOR Project, said: “End-to-end encryption keeps people safe while using the internet. Being safe online allows people to exercise their rights, resist, and fight for change. Encryption should be a right because it protects everyone, especially for those who are fighting for a better world. Let’s protect encryption.”

Open Rights Group,  one of several civil society organisations joining activity around Global Encryption Day, stated: “We recognise that there is a societal need to deal with serious crimes online such as child sexual abuse, but the policy aims must be deliverable. Measures must be proportionate and governments must clearly define what they want. For example, as it stands, the UK’s Online Safety Bill is neither clear nor proportionate, but it does imply blanket scanning of private chats that would compromise the protective layer of end-to-end encryption. It’s a form of mass surveillance, risking breaches of privacy in bulk.”

Also criticising the UK Bill, Ruth Smeeth, soon-to-be one of the Labour Party’s newest Peers and CEO of Index on Censorship, said: “We will not protect people online by making the internet more insecure. Any move to erode end-to-end encryption in private messaging will directly undermine our collective safety online.

“In an age of increased surveillance and data monitoring, end-to-end encrypted private messaging is a vital tool to protect not only our free expression in personal conversations but also those who rely on it to speak truth to power – public watchdogs, such as journalists, academics, scientists and whistle-blowers. The UK Government has publicly and repeatedly stated its commitment to free speech. They have the perfect opportunity to demonstrate this commitment by ensuring that end-to-end encryption in private messaging is robustly protected in law and in practice for everyone across the UK.”

Joe Hall, Distinguished Technologist, Strong Internet from the Internet Society said: “Encryption ensures secure and private communication on the Internet. When governments try to break end-to-end encryption, the reality is they are breaking so much more. Whether its refugees fleeing a warzone, a person seeking reproductive healthcare, or an LGBTQ+ youth navigating coming out, breaking encryption puts us all at risk.”

The Global Encryption Coalition intervention comes on this year’s Global Encryption Day, when hundreds of businesses, civil society organisations, and technologists are calling on governments around the world to protect encryption.

From Brazil, and India, to the United Kingdom and the EU, Internet advocates are holding 60+ events around the world to mobilise the public and spread awareness of the importance of secure end-to-end encryption and the risks associated with weakening it.

Meanwhile, major tech players outside the Global Encryption Coalition are supporting calls for the protection of encryption.

Leading cybersecurity, privacy and AI expert, Joseph Steinberg said:

“Encrypting sensitive data is one of the simplest and most effective ways to protect it from somehow leaking, which is why governmental efforts to create “back doors” may undermine national security far more than they improve it. If you have doubts as to whether something is sensitive enough to warrant encryption, it probably does, so err on the side of caution and encrypt. Many of today’s computers and phones offer powerful encryption capabilities ‘out of the box’ – all you need to do is enable the feature.”

In support of the Coalition’s efforts to protect end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp head, Will Cathcart said:

“End-to-end encryption keeps all of us safe online. Proposed legislation that breaks encryption would be a step backwards for the safety, security and freedom of billions of people around the world, including children. Governments should be mandating more security, not less.”

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