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September 17, 2015

MI5 boss fears encryption is disrupting spying

MI5 Chief Andrew Parker raised concerns over how encryption is curtailing spying, in a landmark interview.

By Charlotte Henry

Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, made history this morning, by becoming the first serving head of the spy agency to take part in a live media interview.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Parker highlighted the challenges faced by his agency in the light of ever changing technology, as encryption aids people in invading detection.

He said that while he did not want his agency "browsing the lives" of citizens, it was increasingly difficult to obtain relevant information for its investigations.

Parker said:

"It is vital for organisations to have full control of their data to ensure user privacy without compromising their compliance to the legal system and assistance with investigations".

He called on companies to meet their "ethical responsibility", and alert the authorities to potential threats.

It comes as ministers are preparing more digital surveillance legislation, something home secretary Theresa May has regularly advocated for.

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Dr Nithin Thomas, founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm SQR Systems, said:

"Technology has advanced much faster than legislatures could have predicted and has begun to move beyond the reach of the law.

"The latest end-to-end security measures used by services like Apple’s iMessenger have focussed purely on offering end-to-end protection of data without any consideration for the organisations that own the data and the legal obligations they have to meet.

"I believe the onus is on organisations to invest in gaining more control over the data they handle, and enable access when necessary in a more transparent way that is fully compliant to the legislation. This needs to be a universal standard across all forms of communication, not limited to a few select services.

He added: "With the next generation of encryption it will be possible for organisations to meet their obligations from a legal perspective, without impacting the privacy and security that is so important to users."

However, Shami Chakrabartii, director of human right’s group Liberty, hit back on the same radio station, telling the World at One programme:

"I am concerned about any attempt to seek a blank cheque from the British public for unlimited surveillance not just in relation to individual suspects or groups but in relation to the entire population. That is disproportionate and quite possibly counter-productive."

Chakrabarti also said that "It is quite revealing that (Parker) alluded to the fact that there needs to be law to adequately describe the sorts of things MI5 do today."

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