UK’s MI5 security chief warns that encryption is making it too hard to track terrorists

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The Director General of the UK’s counter-terrorist security service MI5, Andrew Parker, has said that the ever-changing encryption technologies are making it difficult for law enforcement and other agencies to track suspected terrorists and spies.

Speaking to the BBC today, Parker said that encrypted communication services are outpacing the laws required to govern access to data, leaving security services in the dark:

“Shifts in technology, particularity internet technology, and the use of encryption and so on are creating a situation where law enforcement agencies and security agencies can no longer obtain under proper legal warrant the content of communications between people they have reason to believe are terrorists.”

He added that in addition to requiring a legal framework, effective monitoring also requires “the cooperation of the companies who run and provide services over the internet that we all use.”

Of course, many of the services are based outside of the UK, and will therefore be outside the reach of the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’, and thus would require some sort of cross-border agreement or proactive monitoring from the companies involved.

While the statements will ring further alarm bells of privacy, Parker insisted that only people genuinely considered to be a threat to national security are investigated by MI5.

“We’re focused on the people who mean us harm. We’re not about browsing through the private lives of the citizens of this country. We do not have population scale monitoring or anything like that.”

That’s cold-comfort to citizens, businesses and communications service providers (CSPs) in the UK, the two groups hit hardest by the new measures.

The timing of the Parker’s first ever radio interview is likely no coincidence either; Home Secretary Theresa May met with major UK and US internet and phone providers earlier in the week to discuss support for the proposed new surveillance bill, and needs to try and gain support as quickly as possible for the controversial measures.

➤ MI5 Director General Andrew Parker on terrorism [BBC Radio 4]

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