Five Eyes' call to end internet encryption spooks New Zealand privacy advocates

The privacy of internet use is under threat, says internet protection agency InternetNZ, over reports the Five Eyes countries want to thwart end-to-end encryption. 

New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the US and the UK - members of the Five Eyes group of nations - met for a conference last week to discuss "grave threats" online and ways to tackle illicit material being shared by the likes of terrorists. 

One of the solutions put forward at the conference was to break end-to-end internet encryption, according to InternetNZ. Encryption is technology that translates data into unreadable code which is only decipherable by the user and those the user intends to share it with.

"Encryption provides important protection for all of us. We need encryption for things like online banking and booking travel safely," said InternetNZ chief executive Jordan Carter in a statement on Monday. 

"We need it to keep ourselves safe and secure online. Without it no one will have trust in the Internet."

There are alternative solutions to keeping New Zealanders safe online without "breaking technologies that do just that," Mr Carter added. He said the "right people" need to be in the room to drive the discussion around internet safety. 

"It's vital the Government discuss these topics with a wide range of people and organisations - the tech sector, law enforcement, small and medium businesses who depend on safe online services, human rights, privacy advocates and more."

But there are concerns among the Five Eyes around encryption being utilised by terrorists. WhatsApp doesn't have access to any messages sent by its users, which former British home secretary Amber Rudd said is an issue in the fight against terrorism.  

"It is completely unacceptable, there should be no place for terrorists to hide," she told the BBC. "We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don't provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other." 

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also called for large companies like Facebook and Apple that own messaging services to open up access to security agencies to help them combat the spread of extremism. 

But InternetNZ says these debates are often "false and sometimes futile", describing encryption on its website as protection for "everyone's security and privacy, which unfortunately means it's used by criminals and terrorists, which creates public safety risks".

"We do not accept that solving challenges relating to encryption is a zero-sum endeavour, with one side gaining what the other side loses," the agency says. 

"We think there are options for increasing New Zealanders' security online and also addressing the concerns of law enforcement and national security agencies."