The UK is going to ban the use of cryptophones

The UK Home Office is proposing to make selling or owning custom-made encrypted phones a crime. As declared, this measure will help law enforcement agencies to fight organized crime.

The proposal is included in a document published by the Ministry of the Interior. First of all, it is proposed to recognize as a criminal offense “the manufacture, modification, supply, offer to supply and storage of items for use in serious crimes.” The document points to several specific points: vehicle camouflage used to conceal illegal goods; digital templates for 3D printing of firearms; tablet presses used in the drug trade; and “sophisticated encrypted communications devices used to aid organized crime.”

Such a change in the law would criminalize the possession of an encrypted phone, its sale or manufacture for criminal purposes. In this sense, the country plans to comply with global trends. For example, in the United States, the prosecutor’s office traditionally uses the laws adopted in its time to combat the leaders of the mafia and considers companies that own encrypted phones as criminal organizations. The authorities of the Netherlands accuse sellers of cryptophones of money laundering, although they do not punish for the very fact of owning such devices. The United Arab Emirates also punishes sellers of technologies that are not approved by the state.

The proposal is already being criticized, pointing out that businessmen, lawyers, and independent journalists can use cryptophones.

However, the country’s Interior Ministry states that: “these provisions will not apply to commercially available mobile phones, nor to the encrypted messaging applications available on them.”

In the current situation, it would be interesting to know how prohibited devices will be determined. For example, a mobile phone without GPS, a built-in camera, and hardware encoding is more likely to fall under this definition. But what if we take an ordinary smartphone and install on it the most stripped-down version of Linux with additional encryption software? Will its owner be prosecuted? Most likely, the officials themselves do not yet have a clear definition of what they are going to ban.

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