Europeans seek “lawful” ways of intercepting 5G communications

The improved standards allow for a user’s identity & location to be protected undermining the police’s ability to conduct “lawful” wiretapping & eavesdropping

The European Commission is working alongside Europol and EU member states to “identify appropriate ways of preserving lawful interception capabilities in 5G networks,” said Ylva Johansson, the EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner.

New challenges for law enforcement authorities will arise with the gradual onset of 5G in Europe, because the technology employs 256-bit encryption that allow for unprecedented levels of privacy and anonymisation in mobile communications networks.

One example of 5G’s significantly bolstered privacy standards is the encryption of the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number within 5G networks. This will mean that “security authorities are no longer able to locate or identify mobile devices,” Europol said in a note last year.

“The authorities are then also unable to assign a device to a specific person,” according to the paper, published by Statewatcha privacy NGO.

Such improved standards in mobile communications may, in turn, allow for a user’s identity and location to be protected, therefore undermining police authorities’ ability to conduct “lawful interception” – in other words, wiretapping or eavesdropping.

In Europe, fears among politicians and police authorities in this regard are starting to provoke ideas about how these higher levels of encryption may be bypassed.

“The Commission, Europol and Member States’ law enforcement authorities are working together to identify appropriate ways of preserving lawful interception capabilities in 5G networks,” a written statement from Commissioner Johansson said on Monday (13 January). The statement was delivered after German leftist MEP Cornelia Ernst pressed the EU’s executive branch for a response on the matter in October.

Read more: euractiv