The increasing use of encryption might have made the job of the authorities more difficult in tracking suspects, but encryption solves more problems than it creates. This has been the message of security experts for a long time, and it appears that former MI5 boss Jonathan Evans agrees.
"The widespread use of encryption has reduced the ability of the agencies and the police to access the content of materials," he said, during an interview with BBC Radio 4, arguing that the security services are not "losing the race" and that arguments about encryption need to take place in a broader context.
"I'm not personally one of those who believes we should weaken encryption because I think there is a parallel issue which is cyber security more broadly, and whilst understandably there is a very acute concern about counterterrorism it's not the only national security threat that we face," he said, putting himsef in an opposing position to the government, which is currently putting the case for back doors.
While terrorism is obviously a very serious issue, Evans described the current wave of Islamist attacks as a "generational problem" and one that that goes much wider and deeper than the perpetrators' communication channels. Meanwhile there are other actors out there who would quicly take avantage of any weakening of encryption, including organised crime and state-backed actors. Evans singled out Russia's alleged interference in the US and French elections.
"It would be extremely surprising if the Russians were interested in interfering in America and in France and in various other European countries but were not interested in interfering with the UK, because traditionally I think we have been seen as quite hawkish and therefore I would be surprised if there had not been attempts to interfere with our election."
As well as making the job of criminals and hostile states like Russia easier, in a future that's increasingly defined by connectivity weakening encryption would risk damaging the UK's broader interests, Evans said.
"We need to think very carefully about our dependence on the internet and in particular on the Internet of Things. With our vehicles and our transport and our critical infrastructure resting increasingly on the internet we need to be really confident that we have secured that, because our economic and our daily lives are going to be dependent on the security that we can put into our infrastructure to protect it from cyber attack," he said.
"I think that the way that cyberspace is being used by criminals and by governments is a threat to the UK's interests are widely and it's very important that we should be seen and the country in which people can operate securely. I that's very important for our commercial interests as well as our national security interests so encryption and that context is very positive."
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