The head of MI5 has warned that encryption technologies are making it harder for the security agencies to tackle the terrorist threat in the UK. He also said that firms like Facebook should take responsibility for passing on communications data to the intelligence services.
Andrew Parker, director general of MI5, said on the Radio 4 Today programme that terrorists are being aided by the rise of encryption technologies in everyday tools such as smartphones.
“The terrorists are using secure apps and internet communications to try to broadcast their message and try to incite and direct terrorism among people who live here who are prepared to listen to their message,” he said.
Parker explained that the security services need to be able to uncover this sort of information, as it has always done, but that encryption technologies are undermining this effort.
“MI5 and others need to be able to navigate the internet to find terrorists’ communications. We need to be able to use datasets so we can join the dots to be able to find and stop the terrorists who mean us harm," he said.
“We’ve been pretty successful at that in recent years but it’s becoming more difficult as technology changes faster and faster and encryption comes in.”
The government is looking at beefing up the powers of the security agencies with the so-called Snoopers’ Charter, while prime minister David Cameron has previously suggested that the government wants to ban encryption tools in the UK.
Parker did not comment on this directly, stating only that the agency always acts within its legal boundaries as defined by parliament.
However, he did say that he believes social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter need to take more “responsibility” given how much data is carried across their networks.
Facebook was identified as having hosted messages between the killers of fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013, raising questions over whether the site should have brought this to the authorities' attention.
Parker explained that companies with this kind of information must cooperate and flag up such information, otherwise there a risk that the intelligence agencies will “go dark”.
“It’s in nobody's interest that terrorists should be able to plot and communicate out of the reach of any authorities with proper legal power,” he said.
“There is a real question about whether companies holding information of that sort should come forward to the authorities and share and report it."
Parker added that, despite concerns that the security agencies already have wide-ranging monitoring powers, as revealed by the leaks by Edward Snowden in 2013, its focus is on stopping terrorists and other crimes, not using surveillance on the public.
“The important thing to say is that we’re focused on the people who mean us harm. We’re not about browsing through the private lives of the citizens of this country. We do not have population-scale monitoring or anything like that,” Parker said.
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