EU wants to force internet, phone companies to turn over encryption keys

A senior European official wants to force internet and phone companies operating in Europe to share encryption keys, under the guise of preventing terrorism.

A French police officer overlooking surveillance cameras in Paris (Image: Gendarmarie Nationale)

A senior European official has called on the region's leaders to force technology companies into sharing encryption keys with national authorities.

The EU's counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove wrote in a document, leaked by Statewatch, is pushing the European Commission to adopt rules "obliging" internet and phone companies operating the region to cooperate with national authorities combating and investigating terrorism.

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"Since the Snowden revelations, internet and telecommunications companies have started to useoften de-centralized encryption, which increasingly makes lawful interception by the relevant national authorities technically difficult or even impossible," Kerchove wrote.

Kerchove's comments come in the wake of other European member state leaders who have called for greater surveillance and powers to intercept communications.

British prime minister David Cameron called for the de facto outlawing of encryption in the wake of the Paris terror attacks earlier this month.

In a visit to Washington D.C. to meet his American counterpart, President Obama appeared to side with Cameron, calling for an update to wiretap laws.

Kerchove did not expand considerably on what the "obligations" would entail. However, he did say that Europol, the pan-European police force, could be "beefed up" to allow for "monitoring and analysis of social media communication on the internet."

He said that the European Commission should also examine "legal and technical" ways of scanning for illegal and extremist content in order for authorities to alert companies to remove it.

Such proposals follow on two weeks after members of the EU, along with a delegation from the U.S. government -- including outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder -- adopted, among other sentiments, a resolution to create a partnership of major Internet providers to report and remove material associated with extremism.

A spokesperson for the Commission, on behalf of Kerchove, was not reachable by phone.

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