France, Germany press for EU encryption law after attacks

PARIS, Aug 23 (Reuters) - France and Germany said they want to compel operators of mobile messaging services to allow access to encrypted content to aid terrorism investigations, joining forces after a series of deadly attacks in both countries.

French intelligence services, on high alert since attackers killed scores of civilians in Paris in November and in Nice in July, are struggling to intercept messages from Islamist militants.

Many of the groups now favour encrypted messaging services over mainstream social media, with jihadist Islamic State a big user of such apps, investigators in several countries have said.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the European Commission should draft a law obliging operators to cooperate in judicial investigations into tracking down terrorists.

“If such legislation was adopted, this would allow us to impose obligations at the European level on non-cooperative operators,” he told a joint conference with his German counterpart in Paris.

Cazeneuve singled out the app operated by Telegram, which he said did not cooperate with governments, adding that legislation should target both EU and non-EU companies. A spokesman for Telegram did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Telegram, founded by Russian Pavel Durov in 2013 and incorporated in several jurisdictions, promotes itself as ultra-secure because it encrypts all data from the start of transmission to the finish.

A number of other services, including Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp, say they have similar capabilities.

Cazeneuve’s initiative, which he hinted at earlier this month, has come under fire from privacy and digital experts, who warned against opening “backdoors” that would let governments read content.

“How could we then prevent terrorists from creating their own encrypted apps and as a consequence enjoy a higher level of security than users who have nothing to hide?” experts including the head of France’s CNIL privacy watchdog wrote in a comment piece in Le Monde on Monday.

“Cracking down on encryption for the wider public would therefore give a monopoly on its usage to organisations that would abuse it.”

France and Germany - where nerves are equally raw following a wave of attacks on civilians this summer, including two claimed by Islamic State - are also seeking closer links between the continent’s databases of personal information.

That would cover data on visas, potential militant threats within the border-free Schengen area, refugees and airline passengers, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.

“We believe that after Brexit .... it’s important to make clear where Europe offers better solutions for our members than if we carried out those solutions unilaterally - and that includes the areas of internal and external security,” he said. (Reporting by Chine Labbe, Michel Rose in Paris and Andrea Shalal in Berlin; editing by John Stonestreet)