The EncroChat police hacking sets a dangerous precedent

Automatically labelling people who use an encrypted chat 'criminals' threatens our fundamental right to privacy.

    their own departments - are all they really want.

    Even more worrying are the implications for all of our civil liberties. Privacy is a human right - perhaps one of the most fundamental rights, and the one that clearly distinguishes between developed democracies on the one hand and authoritarian dictatorships on the other.

    The fact that privacy will sometimes be abused by criminals is not a justification for it to be refused to the vast majority who are law-abiding. There were reportedly60,000EncroChat users globally, but only 800 of them were arrested during the recent operations. Some users may be criminals, but many are businesspeople, politicians, lawyers or just individuals who simply wished to use secure encrypted communication for a variety of personal reasons.

    That is why, we should find particularly concerning the statement made by Nikki Holland, director of investigations at NCA,that "If you have one of these devices, be very worried because we are probably coming for you".

    Most of the public will not be worried, since they may have only heard of EncroChat yesterday. But what is the difference, in legal or ethical terms, between one encrypted chat app and another?

    Many of us regularly use Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp, which are also encrypted chats. In light of repeated phone hacking scandals, our attraction to privacy, especially if we are sharing personally or commercially sensitive information, is surely understandable. So how long until the use of encrypted messenger apps becomes a crime in its own right?

    We appear to be on a slippery slope towards a place where anyone enjoying his or her privacy is guilty until proven innocent, and where authorities in Europe will treat with suspicion anyone who chooses to communicate on a platform other than the officially approved (and perhaps government-issued) ones.

    We might expectsuch behaviourfrom China or Russia, but not the UK or France. To protect the public, Europe's police forces should rely on thorough investigations and reliable evidence, not shadowy hacking techniques and sensationalist headlines which erode justice and endanger our freedoms.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.