Encryption: UK Defence Sec says tech companies ‘have to do more’, gives no detail

Michael Fallon vague on the practicalities of decryption laws Australia seeking to mimic

The UK Secretary of State for Defence has struggled to explain what his government wants tech companies to do to support national security operations, but was adamant that “they have to do more”.

Sir Michael Fallon, speaking to ABC's 7.30 program last night, said the UK had “not fully” used new laws which compel operators to decrypt messages sent via services such as WhatsApp and Telegram.

“We want them to do more and we are continuing to discuss with them how they can help our security services to do more,” he told 7.30.

UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd was in discussion with a number of companies, Fallon said, “to make them do more, to acknowledge their responsibility, to work with us in identifying potential terrorist threats to our country. They have to do more.”

Despite passing its Investigatory Powers Act last year, the UK government has struggled to maintain a consistent message on end-to-end encryption, and has not said what it expects providers to do to ‘remove electronic protection’.

The act – nicknamed the Snooper’s Charter – compels companies to remove “electronic protection applied by or on behalf of that operator to any communications or data”. They must also provide information in an "intelligible form" when requested.

Rudd said in March said that it was “completely unacceptable” that law enforcement agencies were unable to read messages hidden by end-to-end encryption, before coming out in support of encryption later the same day.

Australia's government is now seeking to create similar laws, and has cited the Investigatory Powers Act as an inspiration.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis have been similarly vague on the details of how tech companies are expected to cooperate, but made it clear that they should.

Fallon added that security services should be given “all the powers they need” to thwart terrorist plots.

“That's vital and we're continuing to work with those [tech] companies to make sure they cooperate better,” he said.

On Wednesday, the UK and Australia cemented its long-standing relationship in tackling cyber threats which can “risk international stability”, a joint statement said.

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