The terrorist attacks perpetrated earlier this month in Austria and France have reopened the debate on end-to-end encryption offered by certain couriers. A draft resolution adopted by the EU Council could force courier apps to allow intelligence services and police investigators to bypass the end-to-end encryption they offer. To do this, the EU would force services such as WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram to provide backdoors allowing the authorities to monitor or trace the exchanges of people suspected of terrorism, or of individuals involved in online child pornography.
For the time being, the text under consideration is not publicly accessible – but a leaked draft memo outlining the Council’s position on encryption states that a new legal framework is necessary to “protect people in Europe from Islamism”.
It also says that “competent authorities must be able to access data in a lawful and targeted manner, in full respect of fundamental rights and the data protection regime, while upholding cybersecurity”.
Digital rights activists, however, have warned against the law and the potentially damaging impact it could have on civil liberties.
It is not the first time the EU has considered such a drastic approach, though.
In 2014, leaked documents revealed that Brussels was secretly considering a device that would have enabled police to stop vehicles remotely.
The proposal was outlined as part of the “key objectives” for the “European Network of Law Enforcement Technologies”, or Enlets, a secretive off-shoot of a European “working party” aimed at enhancing police cooperation across the EU.
It said the project would have worked “on a technological solution that could have been ‘built in standard’ for all cars that entered the European market”.
It was not clear what cost implications it would have had for car makers, though.
Statewatch, a watchdog monitoring police powers, state surveillance and civil liberties in the EU, obtained and published the documents amid concerns the technology could have posed a serious threat to civil liberties.
Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch, said at the time: “We all know about the problems surrounding police stop and searches, so why will these cars be stopped in the first place?
“We also need to know if there is any evidence that this is a widespread problem. Let’s have some evidence that this is a problem, and then let’s have some guidelines on how this would be used.”
The remote stopping and other surveillance plans were signed off by the EU‘s Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation on Internal Security, known as Cosi.
This meant that the project had the support of senior British Home Office civil servants and police officers.
Cosi, which also meets in secret, was set up by the Lisbon Treaty in 2010 to develop and implement what emerged as a European internal security policy without the oversight of MPs in the House of Commons.
Former Ukip MP Douglas Carswell told The Telegraph about the plan: “The price we pay for surrendering our democratic sovereignty is that we are governed by an unaccountable secretive clique.”
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He added: “It is appalling they are even thinking of it.
“People must protest against this attack on their liberty and vote against an EU Big Brother state during the European election in May.”
The plans appear to have been dropped.