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Why Canada Must Defend Encryption: Protecting the privacy of communications in Canada

September 2021

Why Canada Must Defend Encryption


Mohammed (Joe) Masoodi

Mohammed (Joe) Masoodi


Alexander Rand



Executive Summary

Apple has recently announced plans to scan customers’ mobile devices for pictures uploaded to its iCloud servers as well as texts shared through its messaging app for child sexual exploitation materials, raising significant questions and concerns regarding surveillance and reigniting the debate on encryption. Western law enforcement and intelligence agencies have long warned about their seeming inability to gain access to the content of individuals’ private electronic communications due to the widespread use and implementation of encryption technologies in consumer electronics, posing risks to public safety and national security.

In particular, these arguments are often linked to threats, including terrorism, domestic violent extremism and, more recently, child sexual exploitation. Police and intelligence agencies believe it will become increasingly difficult to curtail such crimes when unbreakable encryption continues to be widely implemented in everyday electronics. As a result, such agencies are increasingly making calls to tech companies to devise new ways that allow them access to private communications by weakening their encryption systems; and Australia and the UK have gone as far as passing legislation to compel company cooperation in this regard.

On the one hand, such calls by police and intelligence agencies in the West are growing; while, on the other hand, a wide range of public, private and civil society stakeholders — including researchers, experts and even senior government officials within the policing-intelligence apparatus — have staunchly opposed such proposals. Rather, they argue that additional legal powers aimed at circumventing encryption will produce wide-ranging consequences by leaving networks and the people that rely on them more vulnerable to cyberattacks while producing lasting harms including to human rights and civil liberties globally.