PARIS - Anti-terror prosecutors from four nations say they need greater access to encrypted data on smartphones and computers in the fight against terrorism.
The prosecutors from France, Belgium, Spain and Morocco made their joint appeal in Paris after a two-day meeting. They’re seeking new tools to respond to a new age of terror and unlock encrypted messages used by groups like Islamic State.
They issued a joint statement Friday to alert national and international authorities, internet providers, software makers and telecommunication operators about the obstacles posed by data encryption and the locking smartphones and computers, according to the Associated Press.
French prosecutor Francois Molins said protecting personal data is an essential right, but terrorism threats justified specialized judicial access to suspects’ data. Not having that, he said, has sometimes paralyzed investigations.
France and Belgium have both been hit by major terror attacks in recent months. Prosecutors from the four countries have been working closely to prevent future incidents.
The issue of accessing encrypted data is controversial, raising concerns about privacy and abuse. In the U.S., for example, Apple refused to help the FBI unlock an iPhone belonging to a California assailant.
Joe McNamee, executive director of NGO European Digital Rights in Brussels, was critical of the prosecutors’ demands.
“A bad idea, badly explained,” he said. “We’re presented with a notion — in an environment when there is more data about more individuals than at any time in our history — that certain pieces of data are absolutely crucial …and on a very practical level that’s just not true. On a deeper level, the issue of encryption is about everyone’s security.”
French and German authorities have issued similar calls for encrypted data to social media platforms popular with Jihadi groups.