encryption

National Crime Agency believes encryption is hampering efforts to catch criminals

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Law enforcement agencies are being hampered in their investigations by the use of encrypted communications by criminals, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).

In a new report, the agency said that its officers have seen the use of encryption in criminal contacts across all threat areas it tackles.

Since 2010, many communication service providers have been providing end-to-end encryption in messages sent to other users following the fallout of disclosures made by rogue NSA agent Edward Snowden.

“Whilst this means enhanced privacy for the users, the use of encryption is impacting on law enforcement’s ability to collect intelligence and evidence,” the report states.

“Now, the majority of internet traffic is encrypted and publicly available mobile device apps offer end-to-end encryption as standard.

“Whilst this means enhanced privacy for the users, the use of encryption is impacting on law enforcement’s ability to collect intelligence and evidence.”

The NCA’s assessment acknowledged that encryption provides important benefits to the public and economy, enabling digital commerce, ensuring security on the web and increasing privacy.

“However, such technology has become an enabler to criminality, presenting serious challenges for law enforcement,” it warned.

Former UK home secretary Amber Rudd attacked encrypted messaging services last year and said that “real people” do not need end-to-end encryption, provoking a backlash from privacy advocates. 

The issue was also flagged up by the NCA director general, Lynne Owens.

She said: “This year’s assessment shows that organised crime groups are exploiting digital technology, for instance using encryption to communicate and dark-web marketplaces to aid their activities.”

The 58-page review summarised the threat picture in child sexual exploitation and abuse, modern slavery and human trafficking, organised immigration crime, cyber-crime, money laundering, drugs and guns.

It said serious and organised crime affects more UK citizens more often than any other national security risk - and warned the threat is increasing in volume and complexity.

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