The FBI was recently engaged in a public battle with Apple over access to a terrorist’s smartphone. Supported by some of the world’s largest tech companies, including Google and Facebook, Apple resisted a court order to hack the security features on an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers. Law enforcement officials believed the phone may have contained important information, but civil rights activists were worried the move could set a dangerous precedent.

The crux of the matter is that it is technologically impossible to build a backdoor into encryption systems without potentially making the whole system vulnerable. If the FBI or the NSA can use a backdoor, then so can foreign intelligence agencies, criminals, or terrorists themselves.

We had a comment from Hugo who argues this question raises many important issues. In a democratic state, should intelligence agencies necessarily be guaranteed access to the private activity of all citizens (even if a judge’s approval is required first)? Who is liable if a citizen becomes the victim of cybercrime due to one of these backdoors?

To get a response, we spoke to Heli Tiirmaa-Klaar, Cyber Security Policy Advisor for the European External Action Service (EEAS). She argued that a balanced approach between civil liberties and security was required:

Heli_Tiirma_KlaarWell, this is a very difficult question which is now being discussed everyday with law enforcement, especially in the context of the recent terrorist attacks. We know that cyber-systems are sometimes used for malicious purposes, and quite a lot of organised crime has moved to cyberspace or is using cyberspace for its purposes. So, there should be some sort of balanced approach to encryption that would react to the needs of law enforcement if it’s really necessary, but of course it shouldn’t be done at the expense of civil liberties. And several EU countries are currently passing laws and discussing how to find this balance.

Should backdoors be built into encryption to counter terrorism? Would backdoors help intelligence services monitor potential threats and ensure our safety? Or would this make ordinary citizens more vulnerable to cybercrime? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC – BY-SA 2.0 – Perspecsys

116 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Paul X

    You do not need a backdoor, Apple can easily hack into one of their own phones, they just need to respect the law and obey the court order to access a criminals phone data instead of pretending they have some conscience about civil liberties (if they were promised a wad of cash for doing it you can be sure they would have done it long before now)……..the judge issuing the court order is the safety net to prevent abuse and the civil rights brigade should just shut up, proven terrorists and murders have no rights

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Hi Paul,

      Seems we are lone supporters & prepared to sacrifice “privacy- but qualified” when pitted against “deadly terrorism”. Why the sudden hesitation, consternation & confusion? In such SPECIAL instance- anti terror laws (if in place) must ruthlessly be applied, the state must investigate & prosecute without fear or favor of political correctness or HR concerns- in order to protect the greater community!

      Sorry, but I don’t buy into the notion that a major global corporate (Apple) does act honestly & in our best interest, pretending THEY are the defender of our so holy privacy, instead of our sovereign governments! This is all part of corporate psychological trickery to increase their sales, image & mislead. One plays in their hands and supports their gamble- towards their global corporate takeover & lobbyists- to gain more & more influence over our governments. I support to call their bluff!

  2. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    To every lock there is a picklock and vice versa.
    Let us put all this mental effort in countering terrorism.

  3. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar


    Back-doors always become front-doors.

  4. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    These high tech companies advise against it because by opening the back-door it makes encryption more vulnerable to criminals and terrorists. That danger in itself is enough for a no. Plus as long as laws exist for MPs, diplomats, royalty and government officials to be above the law, especially in the case of child abuse, it is hypocritical double standards. Hundreds of thousand of children abused over the years aren’t as important as terrorists activities on a phone?

  5. avatar
    Pedro Costa

    Nop. When there will always be bugs in the implementation of said “cryptographic systems”, back doors are unnecessary.
    Always remember that a system is secure as its weakest link. If you try the brute force approach, of course, you’re going to be bitchslapped. Just hand the cell phone to one of the alphabet agencies or a private contractor.

  6. avatar
    Larry Lart

    No! It’s a waste of time and taxpayer’s money!

    Backdoor in the encryption or any other policy enforcement will only work with standard/off-the-shelf encryption tools.

    On the other hand, custom encryption and/or derivate products are easy enough to implement (and I bet there already are a fair number out there) and these will render any policy useless.

    Do you think any half decent criminal mind, knowing that off-the-self encryption is bugged, will use that as oppose of something obscure or custom?

    So who is this policy supposed to enforce? The criminal dummy? All that waste of taxpayer money and potential violation of privacy for everyone for what? The real dangerous people will have the mind and resources to at least use a nonstandard encryption.

    Not to mention that the lack of proper understanding/vision on the political stage is holding back the entire security/encryption development which, ironically, helps precisely the bad guys.

    • avatar
      Ricardo Mendes

      You said it all.

  7. avatar
    Dobromir Panchev

    No, it is enough to monitor money transactions and bank accounts, as well as weapon sales – they show it all.

  8. avatar

    Absolutely NO. There are several other methods to keep an eye on “bad guys”. The presumption of innocence as a Fundamental Right should prevail any “war on terror” campaign. We still live in the free side of the world, aren’t we?

  9. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    This question (& its answer) needs to be specific- not generalized!

    *Generally: NO.
    *Specifically: when the State & the general public’s security hangs on a thread- YES- with conditions!
    *Condition: a court order, only that ONE phone. In APPLE’s secure room- no key divulged, only its content to the court.

    Why make such a fuss, exaggerate & create a none issue?

  10. avatar
    Emilio Chile Acosta

    De momento lo UNICO que SABEMOS es que EL TERRORISTA de BRUSELAS aterra a los POLITICOS y algunos otros raros, hehehehe SU ABOGADO va en funcion de EXPONER SU DENUNCIA asi que hehe CALMA, CALMA que LA COSA VA POR LOS TRIBUNALES Y PARECE QUE NO GUSTA A LOS TRIBUNALES ufff

  11. avatar
    Vítor V C Vieira

    Assuming that probably there IS already backdoor, this ‘discussion’ is useless.
    Only a low-IQ criminal would risk using a phone in his activities. Fixed or mobile.
    Remember: it’s just a bunch of ‘0s’ and ‘1s’.

  12. avatar
    Mike Oxlittle

    I suspect Apple already have a backdoor into their phones,but they are also a business and it’s money that matters to them not national security.If the US government comes up with enough cash i’m certain they’ll open up any phone they were asked to.

  13. avatar
    Dimitris Kasapakis

    Europe should stop doing what US desires. Europe should also stop trying to find excuses like terrorism to bypass the protected privacy of its own citizens. Instead of trying to counter the result, how about denying to take part in the global terrorism the US and EU are participating in?
    Stop bombing women and children, stop creating monsters like ISIS and stop financing “springs” and known neonazis in order to remove an unwanted regime or government, just because uncle Sam will be happy.

  14. avatar
    catherine benning

    Government already have access to our phones and anything else they wish to have regarding our being. So, this is a nonsense looking for back door permission to do what is or should be illegal, without prior knowledge and permission to do so.

    If Angela Merkel and other leading figures can be tapped, hacked and generally spied on, without their knowledge, then ‘they’ can do it to anyone. It is simply not revealed.

    Terrorism is an excuse for violation of privacy. If any government wanted to stop terrorism they would make concrete moves to remove the threats to us and our society quickly and without any pretence as to what they are doing, why, and then openly allow access to evidence.

  15. avatar
    Gilgit Baltistan Youths

    What #ImamKhamenei predicted the 2nd of june 2014 has become reality in Europe.

    Imam Khamenei: In the present time, a number of regional countries are supporting the crimes of takfiri groups in Syria with their assistance. But in the not too distant future, these groups will be the ruin of the countries which are supporting them and in the end, they will have to destroy them by paying a high price.

  16. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    Of course they should, pretty sure the security services will love the recipe for chicken soup I just sent to my mum.

  17. avatar
    J M Perz Gnlz

    No, and that is why EU has become a dictatorship. What is the difference between that and the Soviet Union?

  18. avatar
    Enric Mestres Girbal

    If there is a terrorist suspicion, why not? only the ones to hide some thing are against it. I prefer a dictatorship in peace then a democracy at war.

  19. avatar
    Luchian Melnic Dumitrache

    They should support r terrorism and invite as many terrorist in as possible like Merkel does ! And do not listen to phones to stop genocide that would be haram…. Whenever you will come to your senses you wi deport all lovers of terrorism out, lock the borders and dismantle the ideogy of murder in the name of God

    .if God would want all dead would sent a rock on a collisiom course and wipe us all out in a blink of an eye

  20. avatar
    Adrian Limbidis

    This is pure comedy !

    1. CREATE PROBLEM – import Islamic nuts who blow themselves up.
    2. OFFER SOLUTION – “allow us to spy on you….for your safety lol”
    3. 1984 can now begin !

    Do you think we’re stupid ?

  21. avatar
    Andrej Němec

    Yes, we should be all monitored. For those like 99,99% of us who have nothing to hide, it wouldn’t make any harm. But it could save our lives.

    • avatar
      Adrian Limbidis

      You have nothing to hide?

      What happens when the governments no longer serve you – something which ALREADY has partially happened?
      What happens when corporate fascism reveals itself to those who don’t already see it?

      Will you have “nothing to hide” then?

  22. avatar
    Lynda Germon

    If you have nothing to hide …why should you be worried …they would die of boredom listening to my conversations !!!!!

  23. avatar
    Claudio Bartoletti

    they have access, def not getting my blessing to listen to my private matters, but then today with computer tecnology, cameras etc we have no privacy, i would vote NO……..

  24. avatar
    Shawn Mubiru

    Why should government snoop in people’s phone if they are not persons of interest? I believe that secure environment or world is good for all of us so governments should be innovative in protecting its citizens without encroaching on their privacy. Immigration and security organisations should work hard to protect its citizens.

  25. avatar
    Ainhoa Lizar

    Cheap excuse! Governments should protect the borders and not allow terrorists in our countries!

  26. avatar
    J M Perz Gnlz

    Should the people have access to governments phones to counter corruption, tax evasion, and weapons sales?

  27. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    You cannot even find terrorism when it walks into an airport. What is access to a phone going to do? Plus in all movies criminals use disposable phones anyway.

  28. avatar
    Wolfgang Mizelli

    if there is a reasonable suspicion I might be one, yes otherwise not at all. general surveillance and data preservation is a measure for oppression not for security and safety.

  29. avatar

    The government should be able to access your phone or computer. If in any case a crime or an act of terrorism were to happen within an encryption that the government can not pass through, then they will not be able to secure the U.S. nation. Also, it’ll decrease the dangers many innocent people will encounter in their lives if evidence is found within a phone or computer to testify in court.

    • avatar
      Adrian Limbidis

      This is about the EU not the US.

  30. avatar
    Петър Николаев Костадинов

    Governments should be everyone. And we need not to hide. Local righteousness? I do not think so. it is not just like that. Then they can affort to track. Or someone want to hide? But first give opportunities to people who covers criteria and track fools.

  31. avatar
    Chris Pavlides

    No. Otherwise society should also be able to listens them. So we know who & why decide to open our borders to strangers.

  32. avatar
    JD Blaha

    If one has been paying attention to what Edward Snowden has revealed and had published at The Intercept, this is a moot question – Snowden says if you have a smart phone, they already access it.

  33. avatar
    Cezar Rujan

    Hahahahhahaha, no!
    The terrorists will just go off the grid/use encryption/etc. and have a better recruiting base in the disgruntled citizens resulted in the certain abuse such measure comes with.
    Signal intelligence is useless if the other side knows it’s being listened to.

  34. avatar
    Ainhoa Lizar

    No. The governments should have access to control the borders and deport the terrorist invaders.

  35. avatar
    Dimitris Stamiris

    they all ready do without asking …… that democracy we talking about !!!!!!!

    terrorism is simply ….. stop the war and send them home !!!!!

  36. avatar

    Absolutely not! The EU should rule “hate speech” laws unconstitutional! Then let the people drive the terrorists out!

  37. avatar
    Jean-Jacques Eiza Lauture

    Why not first be informed about it, to protect our private life? We also should use these historical lessons we have from now from the wrong doing from NSA and CIA, exposed by Snowden, Wikileaks, Anonymous, to establish transparents rules about the use of these data, to demonstrate the integrity of intelligence services, to all citizens. The wrong doings raising human right issues, should therefore not be hidden as it is today to citizens, i.e, the identified cases of collusion with lobbies, laundering, mafias, drugs, crimes, also collusions with political parties, black projects involvements, and dark government controls

  38. avatar
    Gabriela Reyes

    Yes to keep you and other people safe

  39. avatar
    Marko Martinović

    LOL no. If EU wantet to combat terrorism they would not let them in, or free them after admiting rape of children or conceal their crimes or persecute those who criticise extremists.

  40. avatar
    Dutoiu Catalin

    Legal, no. Ilegal they already have. ‘Counter Strike’ is dust in peoples eyes, nothing more.

  41. avatar
    Zap Van Der Berg

    First answer is no but thinking about it…. I might think Its wrong doing it to me (as everyone does) but we live in a tremendously irresponsible society, everybody criticizes politicians, public lawyers, public doctors, military, police, etc… But very few of these people would sacrifice themselves fo this line of work, most people work in what brings them satisfaction, not thinking about societies need, likewise so many “good people” pity orphans, dont want to watch animals be killed, etc. But will these people adopt an orphan? No cause “its not my own child and that feels weird” will the same girls who cry when a chicken or a pig is killed stop eating meat? Most wont

    And everyone thinks they are normal and that why nobofu wamts their phone hacked, but we have so many terrorists, pedofiles, molesters, murderers, people who do bloody wichcraft rituals, etc… Amd someone needs to take responsibility, also as a society we agree experimentation on live humans, human trafficking, brainwashing, is wrong, but that wont stop narcicists and psychos like orochimaru and danzo from trying, (naruto reference hahahaha) so we need someone to take responsibility, strong leaders for our human village, to deliver on our collective dream of world peace, security, food, healthcare and entertainment abundance, etc… (Illuminati if you read this i want a girlffriend please XD) If they do that they can hack my phone, fuck, put a camera in my room, and they can live in palaces and have weird parties for rich people, etc… The problem i have with goverments is not inequality of income or lifestyle, but that often they hack your phone but dont stop the terrorists, to give an example (and thats why i love ma king willie and big boss rutte, for though not in all, in many things they have delivered for the dutch people, so i love them and bless them)

    • avatar
      Salvo LtWorf

      It’s more of a technical issue. If such access is at all possible, of course someone will leak it, so everyone will have access.

  42. avatar
    Jay Tee

    absolutely not. the fact that you even pose this question shows just how far down the road to an Orwellian 1984 hell we have already gone (lead by the british).

  43. avatar
    Marian Gheorghila

    La comunicare,reforma si responsabil eficient,cheia.Terorismul creste insidios si macro,este o forma a dreptatii si evidentei de etic.Politicul este un terorist pentru natura prin lipsa masurilor de exemplu la civilizatie si protectie climatica contra industriei fosile

  44. avatar
    Pedro Alves

    1. Is the right to privacy even open for discussion?
    2. Accessing the people’s phones is not going to help any counter terrorism. It is naïve to think you can control terrorists with these methods

  45. avatar

    Well first they spy on us and only ask after.
    I think they should’ve asked first and then star spying.

  46. avatar
    John ennis

    Yes they should but having access to our homes thru Apple TV and power company’s as current is illegal and breach of privacy

  47. avatar

    I’m in school looking for an argument to use for my lesson and I need an article proving why it’s a good idea for gov officials to have access to your phone. Please help send links.

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