Media release: Government’s dangerous statement about encryption doesn’t make sense

Today the government announced that, while it supported the use of encryption on the internet, it was proposing to fatally undermine the use of encryption on the internet. 

The statement co-signed by Minister Andrew Little agrees with us that "strong encryption plays a crucial role in protecting personal data, privacy, intellectual property, trade secrets and cyber security" but at the same time calls on technology companies to provide governments with ways to circumvent that encryption for the purpose of law enforcement.

The Government statement further acknowledges that encryption "serves a vital purpose in repressive states to protect journalists, human rights defenders and other vulnerable people" while at the same time wanting to give governments the power to break those protections.

Thomas Beagle, Chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, says:

This government statement is a dangerously nonsensical collection of contradictions. You can't have the benefits of encryption while taking away its effectiveness.

The New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties supports the use of encryption. While we recognise that it can be used for harm, we also believe that in our digital world the ability to communicate freely and privately is a key part of freedom of expression and freedom of association, as well as safeguarding people’s privacy. The idea that there is an all-or-nothing trade-off between protecting the security of people’s communications and tackling organised crime, terrorism or child abuse is false. Circumventing encryption for everyone is not a silver bullet that will enable governments to rid us of these problems, but it will have damaging consequences for everyone.

We're concerned that this announcement, made in conjunction with Australia, the USA, Canada and the UK (aka the Five Eyes) as well as India and Japan, and with similar activity going on in Europe, seems to be a concerted multinational effort to make all communications open to government eyes. 

Thomas Beagle says that the statement has worrying implications for those in repressive states:

The idea that you can force the big technology companies to provide access to some governments but not others also doesn't make sense. Once the functionality is there, providing access to local governments will be the price of doing business in those countries. By demanding these facilities be built into products, we're giving up the freedom of people in repressive states.

He concludes by pointing out that: 

In a time when fascism and authoritarianism is on the rise around the globe, including in some of the countries that New Zealand co-signed this statement with, we shouldn't be giving governments all over the world additional powers to spy on their people.


Thomas Beagle
NZ Council for Civil Liberties