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European Court of Human Rights bans weakening of secure end-to-end encryption – the end of EU‘s chat control CSAR mass surveillance plans?

European Parliament Freedom, democracy and transparency Pressemitteilungen

The European Court of Human Rights yesterday banned a general weakening of secure end-to-end encryption. The judgement argues that encryption helps citizens and companies to protect themselves against hacking, theft of identity and personal data, fraud and the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information. Backdoors could also be exploited by criminal networks and would seriously jeopardise the security of all users’ electronic communications. There are other solutions for monitoring encrypted communications without generally weakening the protection of all users, the Court held. The judgement cites using vulnerabilities in the target’s software or sending an implant to targeted devices as examples.

Member of the European Parliament and digital freedom fighter Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party) comments:

“With this outstanding landmark judgement, the ‘client-side scanning’ surveillance on all smartphones proposed by the EU Commission in its chat control bill is clearly illegal. It would destroy the protection of everyone instead of investigating suspects. EU governments will now have no choice but to remove the destruction of secure encryption from their position on this proposal – as well as the indiscriminate surveillance of private communications of the entire population!

Secure encryption saves lives. Without encryption, we can never be sure whether our messages or photos are being disclosed to people we don’t know and can’t trust. So-called ‘client-side scanning’ would either make our communications fundamentally insecure, or European citizens would no longer be able to use Whatsapp or Signal at all, because the providers have already contemplated that they would discontinue their services in Europe. It is a scandal that the EU Council’s latest draft position still envisages the destruction of secure encryption. We Pirates will now fight even harder for our digital privacy of correspondence!”

Background: The EU Commission and an industrial network of surveillance authorities are calling for generally searching private communications using error-prone technology, including on end-to-end encrypted messengers, for indications of illegal content. This could only be implemented by undermining secure end-to-end encryption. The majority of EU governments support the initiative, but a blocking minority is preventing a decision. The EU interior ministers want to discuss the bill again at the beginning of March. Under massive pressure from Pirates and civil society, the EU Parliament has rejected the destruction of secure encryption and indiscriminate chat control. However, this is only the starting position for possible negotiations with the EU Council, once it agrees on a position. Meta has announced that it will start encrypting direct messages via Facebook and Instagram in the course of this year and discontinue its current voluntary chat control surveillance on these messages. Nevertheless, the EU is in the process of extending the authorisation for voluntary chat control.

Breyer’s information page on chat control