Encryption Faces an Existential Threat in Europe

That’s a lot of lawyers.

Surname [Big Tech] are throwing hundreds of millions of euros at this problem. And no matter how committed Ms. Vestager is against this, she is facing an uphill battle against the vast resources of the entrenched forces. So it will be an uphill battle. But what makes me very optimistic is that, for the first time, I’m seeing the committee reach out to small companies like Proton to really understand what the problem is and get to the heart of it.

That is a change. Instead of just listening to whatever Big Tech consultants and attorneys have to say, they take the time to talk to small companies and for the first time—perhaps ever—I feel feels like we have a say in Brussels.

When did that change happen? After the DMA is passed?

Just within the past year. I think it really shows a change in mindset in Brussels that so far hasn’t happened in the US. In the US, the antitrust war is much tougher.

What about other European regulations? I know there is a lot of concern about the law drafted by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, which proposes to force crypto platforms to perform automatic searches for child sexual abuse material. Is that something you think might affect you?

Of course, it has the potential to affect us. There is also the UK Online Safety Bill. Looks like it’s coming back from the dead.

But if these things happen, there is a risk that encryption will be ruined at a time when you are having breakthroughs in these other areas.

The problem with these rules is that they are written too broad; they are trying to cover up too many unrelated issues. I’ll give you an example from the UK’s online safety debate. Part of its focus is on content moderation on social media. But there is a difference between social media and private messaging. Two things should be separated. So no one is saying that there are no problems and that we should not try to fix them. But I think we need to clearly define what problem we’re trying to solve and how the solution is geared towards the actual problem. Otherwise, you make legislation that has a lot of unintended consequences.

That could be the case with the UK’s online safety bill, which is trying to tackle a variety of issues. But the EU’s proposal to control chat is so controversial that encrypted messaging creates a space where concerns about child abuse are taking place. How do you approach that debate? Because it’s very emotional.

Usually, the purpose of legislation is to intervene when markets do not create the right incentive structures to enforce a good outcome for society, right? And if you consider, say, the child sex abuse control debate, is there any company in the world that would be encouraged not to address this issue? I will say no. It’s a big deal from a PR standpoint, from a business standpoint. So Big Tech and small tech companies like Proton have put all their resources into solving this problem. So, in the event that it did, legislation would probably not be needed because incentives are already in place to deal with the problem.


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