'Five Country Ministerial' - official "communiqué" short on substance


At the end of June, the UK Home Office quietly published a "communiqué" announcing the results of a 'Five Country Ministerial' meeting, in which officials from the 'Five Eyes' countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA) get together to discuss matters of common interest. On the agenda: law enforcement and security threats stemming from the coronavirus pandemic and encryption.

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Oddly, the communiqué was published as Home Office guidance, although it provides no guidance of any sort. The full-text is reproduced below (it was originally published here on 26 June 2020).

There has been no discussion of the meeting or the communiqué in the UK parliament, nor any mention of the 'Five Country Ministerial' since February 2019 (Hansard, link).

Virtual Five Country Ministerial communiqué

We, the Home Affairs, Interior, and Security Ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America (the ‘Five Countries’) have met via video conference on 17/18 June 2020. Guided by our shared responsibility and commitment to build a more peaceful and secure world for our citizens, we discussed the challenges and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for our security and reconfirmed our determination to protect our nations from these threats.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a change in state based and non-state activity as new opportunities to interfere in our societies and commit crime have emerged. Our law enforcement and security agencies have been agile in responding to these threats. As many of these threats cross borders, we discussed how we can redouble our efforts to respond to these challenges.

With many of our citizens staying at home during the pandemic and relying on the internet to conduct business, learn, and socialise, criminals and hostile actors are exploiting this increased online activity as an opportunity to conduct criminal activity, and capitalising on anxieties about the pandemic. This sort of malicious activity on the internet is unacceptable. We agreed to share information and develop joint assessments on these threats and explore ways to strengthen our collective responses. We will work with all partners to promote the framework of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace and uphold the role of all States to help counter irresponsible activity being carried out by criminal groups in their countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated the terrible reality that, as children increasingly use the internet for education, socialising, and entertainment, they are at higher risk of online child sexual exploitation and abuse. We agreed to exchange information on this issue in light of COVID-19, and share lessons in order to continue to strengthen our fight against those who seek to exploit children. We call on the digital industry to take immediate, tangible action to implement the Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, launched in March 2020.

Finally, we discussed the vital importance of collaboration between governments and the digital industry to address concerns with end-to-end encryption where it impacts public safety and the lawful access to information necessary to prevent or investigate serious crimes. We continue to urge technology companies to make real progress on this issue and work with governments in a meaningful way to resolve this challenge in ways that protect our citizens. We will continue to work with like-minded international partners and institutions to ensure complementary approaches to this issue.

We reaffirmed our commitment to keep working together and look forward to meeting face to face when it is safe to do so. Until then, we will continue to meet virtually to advance cooperation among our nations on security, border and migration issues that ensure the public continue to be protected.

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