Pando

British government manages the fallout from Cameron's threat to ban encrypted software

By Nathaniel Mott , written on January 14, 2015

From The News Desk

The British government has begun efforts to soften Prime Minister David Cameron's warning that technology companies which don't include backdoors in their products could be banned from the country, TechCrunch reports, citing anonymous officials.

Cameron initially promised to introduce "comprehensive legislation" which would close off the "safe spaces" where potential terrorists are thought to plan their attacks -- also known as encrypted communications tools like WhatsApp and Snapchat -- in the UK.

His speech was given, perhaps opportunistically, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting which led to the deaths of 17 people in Paris earlier this month. (Hebdo has responded to the shooting by publishing its largest-ever print run today.)

"Do we allow terrorists the safe spaces to talk to each other? I say 'no we don't," Cameron said, adding that he is "confident" and "very comfortable" that introducing even more far-reaching surveillance legislation is "absolutely right for a modern liberal democracy."

Others have disagreed. Security experts told the Guardian that Cameron lives in "cloud cuckoo land" if he thinks the British government could ban encrypted communications. BoingBoing said the plan would "endanger every Briton and destroy the IT industry."

Still others noted the irony of European politicians shouting about increased surveillance (Cameron isn't the only one doing so), which encourages many to self-censor themselves, after posturing about their commitment to free speech in the Hebdo massacre's wake.

Now that the plan to implement that increased surveillance has been made public and been criticized for both its stunning hypocrisy and its ridiculousness in the face of far-reaching surveillance programs already in place, the government is back-pedaling away from it.

This reversal leaves us with the questions: does this back-pedaling signal a willingness to learn more about encrypted communications tools and suss out if increased surveillance will be able to prevent attacks? Or is it simply meant to avoid controversy and distract from that plan until it's made law?