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Dutch intelligence chief calls for backdoors into encrypted chat apps

The push for weakening encryption is picking up more steam around the globe.


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Posted on Sep 19, 2016   Updated on May 25, 2021, 11:42 pm CDT

Citing an unprecedented threat of  attack against the Netherlands, the head of Dutch intelligence says he wants to be able to read encrypted chat apps.

Backdoors into encrypted chat apps, such as WhatsApp and Telegram, are essential for “protecting the legal order,” Rob Bertholee, head of the Netherlands’ General Intelligence and Security Service, told Dutch media

Bertholee’s statements puts him at an opposing end to his country’s ruling government. Earlier this year, the Dutch government backed strong encryption and strongly condemned the idea of backdoors.

The Dutch executive cabinet endorsed “the importance of strong encryption for Internet security to support the protection of privacy for citizens, companies, the government, and the entire Dutch economy,” Ard van der Steur, the Dutch minister of security and justice, wrote in a January 2016 statement. “Therefore, the government believes that it is currently not desirable to take legal measures against the development, availability and use of encryption within the Netherlands.”

Bertholee specifically criticized this position, calling it “undesirable” and warned that it will mean “we are no longer able to read the communication of terrorists.”

Weakening encryption poses numerous challenges. A vast array of privacy advocates and technologists warn doing so will, among other consequences, expose internet traffic to hacking, posing an enormous threat to the privacy of individuals, companies, and governments online.

Bertholee’s comments come as the encryption debate is slowly heating up around the world once again.

In the U.S., law enforcement and intelligence brass like FBI director James Comey continue to argue for backdoors into encryption. That idea has lost significant steam since last year in the White House, Congress, and Department of Defense.

In Europe, French and German authorities have made noise over backdoor legislation as well.

While the White House has come out explicitly against such legislation in America, they have a new tactic: “Quiet conversation” with Silicon Valley companies to help on a case-by-case basis.

It’s not at all clear yet what that means except that the opaque new intimacy between Washington and Silicon Valley represents a potential new front in the Crypto Wars.

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*First Published: Sep 19, 2016, 9:28 am CDT