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The director of UK intelligence and security organisation, GCHQ has urged for closer co-operation between the government and the tech sector to end what he dubbed the “abuse of encryption”, describing it as a “moral problem” which democratic societies must tackle in order to strike a balance between security and privacy.

During a speech at MIT in Boston, GCHQ’s Robert Hannigan called for the tech industry to help the government and security agencies find technical solutions to workaround encryption – although he explicitly stressed that he is not advocating for backdoors to be mandated, or for security systems to be deliberately weakened. However, he was somewhat less clear on what exactly he is advocating.

He explained: “I am consciously avoiding offering solutions, because I don’t have them, and I think we will need to find them together. I suspect those solutions will be diverse and fragile and dynamic in the future: they will not be 20th century solutions.

“The solution is not, of course, that encryption should be weakened, let alone banned. But neither is it true that nothing can be done without weakening encryption.”

Hannigan expressed frustration about the ‘all or nothing’ nature of the encryption debate, arguing that “almost every attempt to tackle the misuse of encryption by cybercriminals is seen as a backdoor.”

He added: “It is an over-used metaphor, or at least mis-applied in many cases, and I think it illustrates the confusion of the ethical debate in what is a highly-charged and technically complex area.”

Do you agree with Hannigan’s assumption that “nothing can be done” in the ongoing encryption debate without weakening encryption? Let us know in the comments below!

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