Spain pushes for encryption restrictions in EU, raising concerns for privacy and child safety

Spain is proposing legislation to restrict encryption for millions of people, but cryptography and privacy experts fear it could jeopardize end-to-end encryption.


According to a leaked document obtained by WIRED, Spain is spearheading the drive inside the European Union to restrict encryption for millions of people. Several of the EU member states, according to the dossier, support suggestions to scan private conversations for illicit information, citing the need to prevent child sexual abuse material. However, cryptography and privacy experts fear it might jeopardise end-to-end encryption, a critical tool for online privacy. Spain is proposing legislation restricting EU-based service providers from implementing end-to-end encryption. Proponents of encryption believe that reducing it will jeopardise user privacy and the digital safety of vulnerable populations, such as children.

According to Iverna McGowan, Secretary General of the Centre for Democracy and Technology’s European branch, breaking end-to-end encryption for everyone will not successfully safeguard minors. The leaked paper contains the opinions of the police Law Enforcement Working Party, demonstrating substantial support for scanning end-to-end encrypted communications for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) from 15 out of 20 nations. Scanning while safeguarding encryption was backed by Denmark and Ireland, but experts believe it is technically impossible. As a potential remedy, the Netherlands proposed on-device screening before encryption.

Security experts have warned that weakening encryption for law enforcement could lead to hackers and governments exploiting it. Many countries support end-to-end encryption, but Italy, Estonia, Finland, and Germany oppose it. Further talks on the proposed measure will require consensus among member states.