UK’s MI5 chief wants ‘exceptional access’ to encryption

MI5’s director general Andrew Parker has called on technology companies to find a way to allow spy agencies “exceptional access” to encryption. In an ITV interview, Sir Andrew Parker says he has found it “increasingly mystifying” that intelligence agencies like his are not able to easily read secret messages of terror suspects they are monitoring.

Dan Sabbagh for The Register:

MI5 exceptional access to encryption. Image: iPhone passcode lock screen
iPhone passcode lock screen

The result, he says, is that cyberspace has become “a wild west, unregulated, inaccessible to authorities”, as he repeated calls that have been made by Britain’s spy agencies in recent years for special access to encrypted messages.

Parker called on the tech firms to “use the brilliant technologists you’ve got” to answer a question: “Can you provide end-to-end encryption but on an exceptional basis – exceptional basis – where there is a legal warrant and a compelling case to do it, provide access to stop the most serious forms of harm happening?”

MacDailyNews Take: No. That’s not how it works. Parker is either a dummy or is playing one on TV in order to get what he wants: the complete destruction of privacy.

A spokesperson for Privacy International, a technology human rights group, said strong encryption kept communications safe from criminals and hostile governments.

“The reality is that these big tech platforms are international companies: providing access to UK police would mean establishing a precedent that police around the world could use to compel the platforms to monitor activists and opposition, from Hong Kong to Honduras,” the spokesperson added.

MacDailyNews Take: For the umpteeth time, there’s no such thing as “exceptional access” to encryption for MI5 or anyone else.

Encryption is binary; it’s either on or off. You cannot have both. You either have privacy via full encryption or you don’t by forcing back doors upon Apple or anybody else. It’s all or nothing. — MacDailyNews, March 8, 2017

There have been people that suggest that we should have a back door. But the reality is if you put a backdoor in, that backdoor’s for everybody, for good guys and bad guys. — Apple CEO Tim Cook, December 2015

This is not about this phone. This is about the future. And so I do see it as a precedent that should not be done in this country or in any country. This is about civil liberties and is about people’s abilities to protect themselves. If we take encryption away… the only people that would be affected are the good people, not the bad people. Apple doesn’t own encryption. Encryption is readily available in every country in the world, as a matter of fact, the U.S. government sponsors and funds encryption in many cases. And so, if we limit it in some way, the people that we’ll hurt are the good people, not the bad people; they will find it anyway. — Apple CEO Tim Cook, February 2016

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

• More proof that iPhone backdoors are a stupid idea: Massive cache of law enforcement personnel data leaks – July 2, 2018
• Tim Cook’s refusal to create iPhone backdoor for FBI vindicated by ‘WannaCry’ ransomware attack on Windows PCs – May 15, 2017
The Microsoft Tax: Leaked NSA malware hijacks Windows PCs worldwide; Macintosh unaffected – May 13, 2017
• Bungling Microsoft singlehandedly proves that ‘back doors’ are a stupid idea – August 10, 2016


  1. Let’s pave the way for Andy, so he can do his job as a spy. Something about that doesn’t fit for the vocation. I thought spy agencies were the ones that ‘cracked the codes?”

    It seems like he might be a little upset with all of this. I think I heard a little wimpier, or whine.

  2. If he truly believes this will help with terrorists, the sheer simple mindedness is beyond astonishing.

    They must understand that creating backdoors will lead to abuse. How stupid can they possibly be? I don’t believe they’re stupid at all.

    If you break the tool, terrorists simply won’t use the tool. Other, probably much more secure methods will be established. This means, as usual, the target isn’t the criminals they point to, the target is the vast majority of us who are not terrorists or criminals of any sort. That’s who they want access to. They want the right to fish and store whatever data they might find.

    Someone believes there be gold in them their devices and they want their cut!

    It’s always us. Always you and I who lose our freedom. A fraction of the population too small to measure commits a certain type of crime. So they pass laws infringing on the rights of the rest of us. They know they won’t stop the criminals, but they always take the opportunity to twist the knob on rest of us.

    “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”

    ― Ayn Rand

  3. It’s all BS. They wish they could have this type of access. It’s like me saying I should be able to pack a niner anywhere, anytime cause my life could be in danger. You coppers need to follow the law just like the rest of us. Take Trump as a prime example of govt. run Amok.

    1. True! Sadly the Patriot Act shows that the right wing doesn’t give a shyt about personal freedom. They are beholden to the military industrial complex. Or wall, for those too stupid to use modern technology to apprehend lawbreakers.

    1. What is your evidence that nation states are dying? Everywhere I look (US, UK, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, etc.) nationalist movements advocating a more powerful state are in the ascendant.

      Where are any nation states dying, and what do you think is replacing them?

      1. Good question. Here’s the basic gist. Under President Eisenhower corporations and the wealthy were taxed at a high rate (90% in some cases). That money was then spent on building infrastructure (eg- Interstate Highway System) and making the nation stronger . . . today, politicians are servants to global corporations. Campaign donations are essentially legalized bribery. The fact that President Trump’s first goal was a trillion dollar tax cut to the wealthy and corporations (instead of rebuilding infrastructure) is a clear indication that “the nation” is a servant to global corporations . . . as we progress toward a surveillance state, the question we need to consider: “Is that surveillance to protect individual citizens and their rights, or protect the business interests of corporations?” Something to think about.

        1. Jay, this century has shown the rise of corporations. One by one, nation states have become the puppets of undemocratic, stateless, multinational corporate powers. Don’t pretend you have a real democratic voice. You get what the corporations lobbied for, and you will like it. You will pay the taxes to pay for everything and the executive class will jet around the world from tax enclave to private island to multi million dollars penthouse.

          Trump is merely the latest buffoon puppet of the billionaires. He entertains the rabble with promises for new working class jobs while idiots like Cook plot for ways to extort labor in shtihole countries. Then Cook, on the company payroll, will helicopter in to the next Davos billionaire party to chat about how much the little people must suffer from the cost of Aids drugs. Social media flurry, then off to the next party. Eddie Cue spends his days bidding on auctions for Kobe’s used Ferraris. 4 billion people the same day have no choice but to walk to work – and also to carry filthy water to their homestead in the desertified polluted mess of a homeland their forefathers left them.

          Nations are not an answer to anything, merely a tribal convention that gelled when the last war ended. The next war will redraw the lines and it won’t be citizens or heads of state calling the shots. Corporations will decide who gets what resources they don’t claim for themselves.

  4. ““Can you provide end-to-end encryption but on an exceptional basis – exceptional basis – where there is a legal warrant and a compelling case to do it, provide access to stop the most serious forms of harm happening?””

    Define “exceptional” and define “serious”, because without clear definitions, those are just open doors for abuse.

    1. The answer to the question is no. Similarly, you cannot require people to hang a house key by their front door in a way that will only allow exceptional access by housebreakers with a lawful judicial warrant.

  5. Here’s the thing… the government doesn’t CARE if the bad guys can read the encrypted contents of anyone’s iPhone. In reality, they know that this will just force people who have sensitive data to use dedicated apps and devices to transmit information which don’t rely on Apple’s encryption but rather have their own.

    Instead of iMessage, they’ll use some other side-loaded app to communicate. This would be a short-term gain and in the end only allow the government to read regular citizen’s traffic and while the banal lifes of the ordinary may yield “some” useful information on ‘the bad guys’ it’s really just one step from the government doing what it wants with your information.

  6. It is incredible to me that the man at the head of the successor agency to the one which broke Enigma could ask such an incredibly embarrassing question.

    HM should sack this man and appoint someone intelligent. Or at least informed.

  7. It’s incredibly difficult to keep messages and data encrypted in the first place. There are so many bugs and poor prime numbers used as the base of a formula, that brute force is hardly necessary. A back door will make it even worse. It’s better to have no encryption, no trust, than to have some quasi bended knee crap that secret spy’s want the regular folks to have.

    You know the real spy’s have their own tools and won’t change the balance anyway for the bits that matter in the first place.

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