French presidential candidate declares privacy war on tech giants

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has unleashed his latest campaign promise; to force internet companies to release encrypted messages to intelligence services.

Privacy advocates around the world will be on the edge of their seats for the next couple of weeks as Macron’s scare-tactics bring data privacy into the equation. According to the BBC, should Macron win the election, he would pass legislation forcing internet companies to hand over communications data on suspect individuals.

It’s a battle which has been surging on the months pitting governments around the world against the technology giants; should intelligence agencies have access to private communications of citizens?

Both sides have valid arguments, which means this debate is set to continue for who-knows how long. On one side, technology companies should assist intelligence agencies in their mission to protect innocent people. However, what constitutes as enough evidence to violate an individual’s right to privacy on suspicion alone?

“If I get elected, France will as of this summer undertake a major initiative aimed at the big internet companies so that they accept a legal framework for requisitions of encrypted services in the context of counter-terrorism efforts,” said Macron.

The problem here is justification and accountability. When should intelligence agencies have access to the data and how can you be sure this power and freedom won’t be abused? There are numerous examples over the last few years of government agencies acting irresponsibly and unethically in the pursuit of safety.

Whether Macron will be able to pass such an idea through to law remains to be seen, though it would be a tough job. The UK’s Snoopers Charter is a prime example. While it did pass through both Houses amid strong protest, it was ultimately shot down by the European Court of Justice on the grounds of privacy.

Another issue here is that of online security. Should the tech giants build in some way for data to be unencrypted by intelligence agencies, it would be a safe bet to assume cyber criminals would also take advantage of the weak link in the fence. Cyber criminals are persistent, and should there be a weakness in any security features, you can almost guarantee it will be found. This opens up the threat of blackmail, fraud and theft for millions of people in the country, and possibly around the world.

It’s a fine line to walk, and a difficult question to answer. When do internet companies cross the line between assistance to intelligence agencies and irresponsibility to users? How much insight should governments have into our personal affairs in the pursuit of safety? What is the cost of privacy?

Technology companies should assist intelligence agencies in the fight against terror, but how is a question which still remains.

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