LONDON — Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, has waded into Britain’s debate over encryption, calling any attempts to weaken the technology a “bad idea.”
Speaking to the BBC, the legendary tech figure warned that forcing companies to introduce backdoors in their security for legitimate purposes could leave them at risk of being abused by others.
His intervention come after UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd attacked WhatsApp in the aftermath of March’s Westminster terror attack, saying “we need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp — and there are plenty of others like that — don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate.”
Her comments reignited the bitter debate over the use of encryption by consumer tech companies. Strong, end-to-end encryption secures messages sent by Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Apple’s iMessage, and others, meaning they can’t be intercepted and decoded by anyone en route — even the companies themselves or law enforcement.
This keeps the users’ data secure, but some fear that they are enabling terrorists, pedophiles, and other criminals. Privacy advocates counter that there’s no alternative if you want to keep ordinary people safe. There’s no such thing as a backdoor that can only be used by the good guys, and any attempt to weaken encryption makes everyone’s data vulnerable.
This is the argument that Berners-Lee makes: If you break encryption, no matter matter how noble your intentions, there’s no way of knowing who might take advantage of it.
“Now I know that if you’re trying to catch terrorists it’s really tempting to demand to be able to break all that encryption but if you break that encryption then guess what – so could other people and guess what – they may end up getting better at it than you are,” he said.
In March, Sir Tim Berners-Lee published an open letter marking the twenty-eighth birthday of the world wide web, and laying out what he views as the biggest risks facing it today. These are the spread of fakes news, the lack of regulation on political advertising, and losing control of personal data.
“It has taken all of us to build the web we have,” he wrote, “and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want — for everyone.”
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