NCA complains that encryption hampers crime fighting

Agency argues that better encryption makes policing harder

The UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) thinks encryption gets in the way when it comes to fighting crime, saying such technological advances are making it harder for law enforcement agencies to find and take down criminals.

The organisation's annual assessment of serious crime in the UK explained that although encryption offers privacy for people, it's impacting how law enforcement authorities' efforts to fight criminals, specifically when it comes to collecting intelligence and evidence.

"This year's assessment shows that organised crime groups are exploiting digital technology, for instance using encryption to communicate, and dark web marketplaces to aid their activities," NCA director general Lynne Owens said.

Encryption became a growing problem for the NCA and other authorities as more communication tools - like WhatsApp - integrated it into their products, while more and more websites use the encrypted data transfer protocol HTTPS.

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"Since 2010, communication service providers have migrated to encrypted services 'by default', a process that accelerated following the Snowden disclosures," read the National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime 2018 report. "Now, the majority of internet traffic is encrypted and publicly available mobile device apps offer end-to-end encryption as standard."

These issues will only mount, it argued, making it harder for authorities to clamp down on criminal activity.

"The pace of these developments will continue to challenge law enforcement capability and resource, with narrowing options for mitigation," the report continued. 

However, unlike former home secretary Amber Rudd, the NCA stopped short of calling for tech companies to open backdoors into their encryption for government agencies, which critics claim would make products more susceptible to malicious hackers.

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