The Home Secretary has called for a “back door” into end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms in a bid to tackle security threats including child sexual abuse and terrorism.
After the Five Eyes security summit, which took place on Monday and Tuesday, Priti Patel said tech firms should not “empower criminals” with their products.
Senior ministers from the Five Eyes partnership, comprised of the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US, met tech firms at the London meeting to discuss security issues.
They voiced their concerns about end-to-end encryption, used by messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram, where only the message sender and the receiver can see its content.
The platform itself cannot read the messages, meaning there is no way for investigators to obtain information on criminal activity directly from the firms.
Facebook is considering using end-to-end encryption on Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct.
In a joint communique released at the end of the summit, the countries involved said: “Tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can obtain access to data in a readable and usable format.”
Ms Patel said: “The Five Eyes are united that tech firms should not develop their systems and services, including end-to-end encryption, in ways that empower criminals or put vulnerable people at risk.
“As governments, protecting our citizens is our top priority, which is why through the unique and binding partnership of Five Eyes we will tackle these emerging threats together.”
US attorney general William Barr said: “Throughout this week, we have had substantive, frank and positive discussions surrounding our shared duty to protect public safety, including those related to the internet.
“Encryption presents a unique challenge. We must ensure that we do not stand by as advances in technology create spaces where criminal activity of the most heinous kind can go undetected and unpunished.
“Indeed, making our virtual world more secure should not come at the expense of making us more vulnerable in the real world.”
Industry representatives – including executives from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter – agreed to collaborate with member states on a set of voluntary principles to combat child exploitation, including the live streaming of abuse.
The principles are due to be finalised by the end of September.
Meanwhile, a set of five commitments for the Five Eyes states were agreed by ministers.
They included sharing learning on cyber threats, ensuring security in 5G networks and creating a stronger approach to the misuse of drones.
They also committed to exploring enhanced cross-border information-sharing and to maintain efforts to combat foreign interference in elections.