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French say 'Non, merci' to encryption backdoors

Minister brands crypto skeleton keys 'vulnerability by design' – is the US listening?

Axelle Lemaire
Talking sense ... Digital minister Axelle Lemaire

The French government has rejected an amendment to its forthcoming Digital Republic law that required backdoors in encryption systems.

Axelle Lemaire, the Euro nation's digital affairs minister, shot down the amendment during the committee stage of the forthcoming omnibus digital bill, saying it would be counterproductive and would leave personal data unprotected.

"Recent events show how the fact of introducing faults deliberately at the request - sometimes even without knowing - the intelligence agencies has an effect that is harming the whole community," she said according to Numerama.

"Even if the intention [to empower the police] is laudable, it also opens the door to the players who have less laudable intentions, not to mention the potential for economic damage to the credibility of companies planning these flaws. You are right to fuel the debate, but this is not the right solution according to the Government's opinion."

The encryption amendment was introduced after the Parisian terrorist attacks in November that left 130 dead. This despite there being no evidence that encrypted communications were a factor in the outrage; the murderers coordinated their killings via unencrypted SMS which wasn't picked up, despite some of them being under police surveillance.

Lemaire called the proposal a plan to introduce "vulnerability by design," and said that while she was aware that law enforcement would like such powers they were not a good idea, and could be used without the proper legal processes that the government supported. She said that, like the Dutch government, her party supported strong encryption.

It's an attitude other governments might want to consider. The Feds in the US have been calling for such a backdoor in encryption for years, and used the Paris atrocity to lend weight to their arguments. Initially the Obama administration rejected such a plan, but negotiations are continuing. ®

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