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How Realistic Is French Presidential Candidate Macron’s Vow to Get Tough on Encryption?

How Realistic Is French Presidential Candidate Macron’s Vow to Get Tough on Encryption?

April 19, 2017 | David Bisson

Emmanuel Macron, an independent candidate who hopes to become France's next president, vows he will get tough on encryption if elected.

On 10 April, the presidential hopeful launched his campaign in Paris. There, the former investment banker highlighted the need for democratic nations to access terrorist communications on social media. He also identified tech giants like Apple, Facebook, and Google as opponents of states' surveillance capabilities.

As quoted by Naked Security:

"Until now, big internet companies have refused to give their encryption keys or access to this content, saying that they have told their clients that their communications are encrypted. This situation is no longer acceptable." 

If elected, Macron wants tech companies to "accept a legal requisition system of their encrypted services similar to the existing one for telecom companies." His promise singles out Telegram, Signal, and other encrypted messaging apps that terrorists have used in the past. Should these companies fail to cooperate, the politician says they'll be "complicit" in future attacks.

Many have expressed their disapproval of Macron's comments. Among them is one IT security expert who told France 24 the anti-encryption proposals "show that Emmanuel Macron does not have a complete understanding of encryption, because he is asking for the impossible, something that does not make sense."

The IT security expert highlighted the fact that companies offering end-to-end encryption don't store the keys necessary to decrypt an encrypted message. Only the participants of that message do. Additionally, he noted that entities like Facebook and Apple don't store copies of private chats on their servers because they don't have access to those communications in the first place.

For the proposal to work, the unnamed security professional says Macron would need to either outlaw end-to-end encryption in France or compel tech companies to accept encryption backdoors. Both measures in his view would negatively affect users' security and potentially expose them to digital attackers. That's the same argument Apple raised in 2016 when the FBI demanded the tech giant help unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

But for the presidential candidate, the fight against terrorism might overshadow those concerns. As quoted by Business Insider:

"[Terrorist] organisations that threaten us take advantage of the possibilities of modern cryptography to hide their projects. They use strongly encrypted instant messengers to talk with each other and give orders. A good chunk of that internet traffic is encrypted and gets away from police forces. It’s obviously a weakness and makes the fight against terrorism harder."

Macron and 10 other candidates will compete in the first round of France's presidential election on 23 April. Opinion polls predict he and far-right Marine Le Pen will make it to the second round of the election on 7 May.

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About the author

David Bisson
David Bisson

David is a Contributing Editor at IBM Security Intelligence.David Bisson is a security journalist who works as Contributing Editor for IBM's Security Intelligence, Associate Editor for Tripwire and Contributing Writer for Gemalto, Venafi, Zix, Bora Design and others.

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