Blogs | Privacy and data protection | Privacy and confidentiality

Everyone wants to encourage encryption, except for one minister

The Department of Justice and Security in the Netherlands seems to be holding on to the idea that it is possible to weaken encryption "just a little". Simultaneously, the parliament and a monster alliance of organizations tells the minister over and over again: it's impossible. EDRi's member Bits of Freedom sheds some light on the on-going debate on the question.

By Bits of Freedom (guest author) · April 7, 2021

Designed by: Vincent Tint/Unsplash

At the end of 2019, the minister of Justice, Ferd Grapperhaus, rocked the boat by demanding the impossible. He stated that the use of encryption “is important for the secure communication between citizen, company and government”. At the same time, he also exclaimed that “it must be simply impossible to use encryption for the exchange of images of child sexual abuse.” According to the minister, this can be done by giving the police access to the encryption keys. But you can’t weaken encryption “just a little”, just like you can’t be pregnant “just a little”.

Of course, questions were raised in the House of Representatives. And of course, the minister tried to reassure the members of parliament. He would “strive for a solution within the framework of the Cabinet position.” That position is pretty clear: “legal restrictions on the development, availability and use of encryption are undesirable.” And just like the parliament, Bits of Freedom too were concerned. That is why they invited themselves to a meeting with the officials on the matter. A good conversation, but not a conversation that reassured us completely.


If the minister forces companies to build in a back door, criminals will sooner or later use it.


That mistrust turned out to be common sense. In March, Dutch media reported that the Dutch government “is still working on plans to weakethe security of chat messages so that messages from suspects can be intercepted”. According to them, the ministry planned to store “some sort of extra digital key in an external place, with which the chats can be decrypted”. But, if the minister forces companies to build in a back door, criminals will sooner or later use it. And with that, the ministry endangers the safety of everyone.

That could not go unanswered. A “monster alliance“, as the biggest financial newspaper of the Netherlands named it, called on the Cabinet to stimulate all forms of encryption. Signatories include organizations that defend the interests of consumers and children, representatives of journalists and media companies, companies that manage the digital infrastructure in the Netherlands, experts in IT security, human rights organizations and organizations that provide access to the internet for educational institutions. An exceptional coalition, because suddenly Bits of Freedom stood side by side with traditional enemies such as Google and Facebook. It underlines the importance of encryption.


But you can’t weaken encryption “just a little”, just like you can’t be pregnant “just a little”.


A day after the launch of the call, the minister sent a letter to the House of Representatives. In the letter, the minister repeats his ideas: “we must find a solution that safeguards and balances [all] interests at the same time.” And “to avoid possible misunderstandings”, the minister said he intends to talk to representatives of the monster alliance. In the meantime, he promises, this (outgoing) Cabinet will not take “irreversible steps”. We have to stay alert, that’s for sure.

The article was first published here.

(Contribution by: Rejo ZengerPolicy Advisor, Bits of Freedom)

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