The government is still working on plans to weaken the security of chat messages so that messages from suspects can be intercepted. Sources confirm this to the NOS.
Previously, a plan by outgoing minister Grapperhaus to make this possible seemed to be prematurely demolished, but officials are still working on the plan. The topic will not be dealt with until after the elections. It is therefore up to the new cabinet and the House of Representatives to be elected on 17 March, confirms the Ministry of Justice and Security.
The weakening of encryption would be contrary to a government position from 2016 that this encryption should not be tampered with. That position is still valid and should therefore be changed.
At the moment, messages in, for example, WhatsApp and iMessage are encrypted in such a way that the chat service itself cannot access them. The advantage of this is that the messages are also safe if hackers break into the servers of the company. This allows journalists and activists to communicate securely, even when they are in repressive countries.
But the disadvantage is that criminals and terrorists also use this security, the intelligence and investigation services have been complaining for some time. As early as 2016, the Public Prosecution told the NOS that it would like to see an opportunity to crack these end-to-end encrypted messages.
Internet and telephone providers are currently obliged to make their networks interceptable. There is no such obligation for the providers of services such as WhatsApp and iMessage. Grapperhaus said earlier that he wanted to get rid of that distinction.
But that would require a fundamental change in how the chat apps work. In fact, some sort of extra digital key has to be stored in an external place, with which the chats can be decrypted. But that key can also be stolen and misused.
“With such a measure, the ministry endangers the safety of everyone. Also in the Netherlands,” says Rejo Zenger of civil rights organization Bits of Freedom. “If the minister forces companies to build in a back door, criminals will sooner or later make use of it.”
The police, the intelligence service AIVD and the Ministry of Defense, which includes the military intelligence service MIVD, insist on the possibility of reading encrypted messages. According to sources, they fear that national security will be at stake if that does not happen.
The Ministry of Justice and Security does want to take into account the results of an investigation into encryption by the European Commission. At the end of last year, the 27 EU member states said they wanted a ‘discussion’ about the pros and cons of encryption.
Due to the effect on encryption, the Ministry of Economic Affairs believes that the effects of such a tapping obligation should be investigated. Last year, the ministry was still in favor.
The plan is not undisputed. Previously, the House of Representatives opposed a ‘ban’ on encryption in order to be able to tap messages. Because of the importance for privacy, the government must oppose initiatives to ‘prohibit encryption of messages’, was the motion, although in this case it would not be a complete ban.
In addition, the topic has been declared controversial. “But that does not mean that officials cannot continue to work on it,” said a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice and Security.
Nevertheless, outgoing D66 Member of Parliament Kees Verhoeven is not happy. “This subject keeps coming back, while the House of Representatives has made it clear that it does not want this,” he says. “This is completely against the wishes of the House.”
FVD party chairman Thierry Baudet, who submitted the motion at the time with which the House supported encryption, is also not satisfied with the plans. “Outgoing or not: the cabinet may not just set aside my adopted motion.”
Member of Parliament Madeleine van Toorenburg (CDA), who is also leaving, remains in favor, however. “I will defend this plan until the last minute,” she says. According to her, the plan is necessary, with sufficient legal safeguards. “If this doesn’t happen, we know exactly where organized crime and terrorism are moving.”