Privacy group calls on Belgium to stop trying to snoop on private communications

Privacy group calls on Belgium to stop trying to snoop on private communications
Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

A worldwide umbrella group of privacy campaigners has issued a call to the Belgian government to abandon plans to try to access encrypted messages on popular messaging apps.

The Global Encryption Coalition campaigns for end-to-end encryption of popular messaging, which blocks any outsider – illegal or law-enforcement – from intercepting messages.

At the end of September, the government released of a draft law “on the collection and storage of identification, traffic and location data in the electronic communications sector and their access by the authorities”.

What that law would do, if passed, is open a back door in all messages, allowing “the authorities” access without permission and without even a search warrant or court order.

There is no way to provide third party access to end-to-end encrypted data without undermining the security and privacy of all users,” the open letter states.

This is not the government’s first attempt. An earlier version of the law was already struck down by both Belgium’s own Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice.

Following that legal roasting, the ministers concerned – Ludivine Dedonder (PS, defence), Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD, justice) and Petra De Sutter (Groen, telecoms) – got back around the table to look for a way through the legal minefield.

The new draft includes such apps as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, and goes further than its predecessor.

"The proposed legislation is “the most dangerous of all European member states," the coalition said in its open letter.

If the law comes in that form, we will join countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and China,” cryptographer Bart Preneel (KU Leuven), who also signed the open letter, told Het Nieuwsblad.

Such a back door weakens the system. It can be abused by criminals. Or by authoritarian regimes to monitor civilians.”

A spokesperson for Dedonder assured critics that the government was seeking a balance between privacy, human rights and security.

If the Data Retention Legislation is supposed to make Belgians safer, it cannot do so by undermining the strong protections we all rely on to live our lives; end-to-end encryption should not be threatened or undermined by this legislation,” the coalition responds.

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