GCHQ boss denies Snooper’s Charter will weaken encryption

Head of GCHQ claims encryption is not under attack, but urges tech industry co-operation

Robert Hannigan, the director of UK spy agency GCHQ, has hit out at claims his agency and its counterparts in the USA are attempting to break strong encryption.

Speaking at MIT, Hannigan called the use of the term 'backdoor' in reference to encryption an overused and misapplied metaphor that "illustrates the confusion of the ethical debate in what is a highly-charged and technically complex area".

"I am not in favour of banning encryption. Nor am I asking for mandatory backdoors," he added. "I am puzzled by the caricatures in the current debate, where almost every attempt to tackle the misuse of encryption by criminals and terrorists is seen as a 'backdoor'."

Hannigan called on the memory of Turing and his Bletchley Park team who cracked the German enigma code during World War II to support his point.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

"The exploitation of a few key flaws in the otherwise brilliant design of the commercial Enigma machine ... enabled Allied victory, and not only, as Eisenhower acknowledged, saved thousands of Allied lives, but also brought the Holocaust to an end before the Nazis could complete their task," said Hannigan.

"Even though it was very large scale, it would be hard to argue that this was not proportionate, particularly in wartime," he added.

Hannigan also denied that the Investigatory Powers Bill, also known as the Snooper's Charter, would give any new encryption-busting powers to intelligence agencies, which has been one of the key criticisms of the legislation.

Instead, he said it "tries to put in one place powers which were spread across numerous statutes".

"On encryption, it simply repeats the position of earlier legislation: where access to data is legally warranted, companies should provide data in clear where it is practicable or technically feasible to do so," said Hannigan. "No-one in the UK government is advocating the banning or weakening of encryption."

Hannigan did suggest, however, that the tech industry and the intelligence community should be working more closely together and try to find a workable solution to their differences.

Advertisement - Article continues below

"We need a new relationship between the tech sector, academia, civil society and government agencies. We should be bridging the divide, sharing ideas and building a constructive dialogue in a less highly-charged atmosphere," said Hannigan.

Stating that the UK government is "fully committed" to such a collaborative approach, Hannigan added: "This will be a dialogue that starts from the position I've set out today - that the government and its agencies support, and want to actively promote, effective encryption."

"For my part my promise today is to engage in that process with the tech industry openly, respectfully, and in good faith," he concluded.

Read Next: Apple vs FBI

Image Credit: By Ministry of Defence (http://www.defenceimagery.mod.uk/) [OGL], via Wikimedia Commons

Featured Resources

What you need to know about migrating to SAP S/4HANA

Factors to assess how and when to begin migration

Download now

Your enterprise cloud solutions guide

Infrastructure designed to meet your company's IT needs for next-generation cloud applications

Download now

Testing for compliance just became easier

How you can use technology to ensure compliance in your organisation

Download now

Best practices for implementing security awareness training

How to develop a security awareness programme that will actually change behaviour

Download now


Policy & legislation

Government announces review of IR35 off-payroll changes

8 Jan 2020
internet security

Avast and AVG extensions pulled from Chrome

19 Dec 2019

Google confirms Android cameras can be hijacked to spy on you

20 Nov 2019

Most Popular

data governance

Brexit security talks under threat after UK accused of illegally copying Schengen data

10 Jan 2020
Microsoft Windows

What to do if you're still running Windows 7

14 Jan 2020
Microsoft Windows

Memes and Viking funerals: The internet reacts to the death of Windows 7

14 Jan 2020

Openreach offers free full-fibre installation for thousands of homes

14 Jan 2020