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19 Jul 2021

Vincent Manancourt and Mark Scott, Politico

Spyware scandal revives push against government access to encrypted messages

... An investigation by a consortium of global media outlets on Sunday revealed that countries across the world, including Hungary, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, are using military-grade spyware to hack the smartphones of dozens of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists.

The revelations — that technology designed by the Isreali firm NSO Group was used by the likes of Hungary’s Victor Orbán to hack opponents' phones — comes at an awkward time for the European Union.

Why? Because policymakers across the bloc are pushing for access to people’s encrypted messages.

In December, national capitals urged the EU to step up efforts to allow law enforcement to gain “lawful access” to encrypted communication, supposedly to catch criminals. The same month, the EU’s police force, Europol, launched a new platform to help national police authorities crack encryption for criminal investigations.

... The push has pitched national governments against tech companies which argue that giving authorities access to their platforms via so-called backdoors undermines their users’ privacy.

The firms and privacy campaigners warn that if you allow some governments to access this encrypted information, it will open the door to let in authoritarian regimes and other actors with more nefarious motives.