This week, Ireland's Garda Commissioner added his voice to those calling for a backdoor 'key' to encrypted devices such as iPhones. Drew Harris said that this would be "very useful" in investigating "serious crime, like child abuse". He also questioned why absolute encryption is completely necessary, suggesting a balance of rights ranged between privacy and security.
He even called for new legislation to compel the owners of encrypted devices to serve up their passwords or encryption keys. Do his comments represent a widening of international pressure on tech companies to moderate their stance on encryption or 'absolute' privacy?
How would such a move stand with privacy advocates and civil rights groups?
What prospect is there of an incoming government introducing laws to create such an effect?
Harris made his remarks this week at an event where Ireland's biggest internet service providers agreed to tighter blocking measures against websites hosting child abuse material.
The move was a limited one, based narrowly on an Interpol list (which currently outlaws 1,857 websites).
But exploring where the Garda Commissioner believes the fight against criminality online should go, this newspaper asked Harris whether the issue of encryption was ultimately in the sights of Ireland's authorities. Harris gave a cautious reply.
"If there was a key that could be used by law enforcement so that we could get to data and evidence of crime, that would be very useful to us," he said.
"We understand entirely the issues around very strong, almost undefeatable, encryption that there is in certain places. One would wonder why that's there."
This is a common view among police forces and security agencies. As they see it, absolute encryption gives too much leeway to darker forces in society, from terrorists to distributors of child abuse material.
Asked if he favoured legislation requiring the handing over of digital passwords in criminal investigations, Harris said that "it should be part" of Garda resources in its efforts to fight crime: "I think in certain cases around very serious crime such as the possession of child abuse images, or other serious offences, yes, that should be a power that is open to us, and it should therefore then be part of our ability to search for evidence."
Harris also said that he knew about the reasons why encryption was a hot- button debate and the privacy side to it. In this context, he said that the Gardaí had resourced themselves with occasionally successful alternatives to backdoor keys.
Asked by this newspaper whether this included hacking or handing devices over to third parties which specialise in breaking device security (as the FBI did in a recent case where it unsuccessfully sought a backdoor entry from Apple into a suspect's iPhone), Harris was careful in his response.
"There are various investigative methods," he said. "But sometimes one can be entirely locked out of certain phones. That is a reality. We are unable to defeat that encryption. But there are other methodologies that allow us to come in from a different route. I don't want to go into those methodologies.
"It would be wrong for me to inform the criminals of the techniques that we use, and the resources and the equipment that we have available to us."
Harris's comments will be noted by politicians, security agencies, technology firms and civil liberties groups.
The issue of a backdoor security key has become a recurring flashpoint in confrontations over how to fight serious crime.
On one hand are those who say encryption gives too much cover for criminals.
On the other are those who argue that the ability to communicate privately and securely is sacrosanct and authorities cannot, in the long term, be trusted with the keys to access our private correspondence.
The issue has become increasingly politically charged in recent months.
In January, US president Donald Trump publicly accused Apple of refusing to unlock phones used by "killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements".
At the same time, the US attorney general, William Barr, also formally asked Apple to unlock two iPhones used by a Saudi air force officer who shot dead three Americans at a Florida naval base in December. Apple stopped short of unlocking the iPhones, but did turn over the shooter's iCloud back-ups in compliance with a legal request.
UK authorities, including two of the last three prime ministers there, have repeatedly called on Apple to decrypt iMessage or otherwise give British police a backdoor key.
Each time, Apple has said no and the authorities have backed down.
However, Apple reportedly dropped plans to let iPhone users fully encrypt back-ups of their devices in the company's iCloud service, after the FBI complained that the move would harm investigations, Reuters recently indicated.
Although it infuriates politicians and police chiefs, Apple is broadly supported in its position by a wide range of civil liberties groups, privacy advocates and competing tech firms.
All of these bodies say that to weaken encryption on iPhones and iMessage would ultimately lead to weaker security for everyone and could give criminals an upper hand.
"They say that privacy and security are a trade-off, but we see that as a false choice," said Apple CEO Tim Cook, speaking in Dublin last month.
Asked by this newspaper whether there is any room for nuance or a lower standard of privacy should authorities seek it, Cook said that there was not.
"No," he said. "I think that everybody has seen some of what's at stake over the last several years in some form. And perhaps it's not well-understood by everyone about how important privacy is. But our view is that it's the base at which many other things exist. It's the basis for freedom of expression, as just one example.
"So I think society is waking up to this and I don't think people in most countries in the world would be satisfied with the continuation of where we are today."
So what happens next in Ireland? The edges of Irish legislative intent in this area may be tested by the new Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. This is mainly aimed at social media companies to tackle cases of "harmful content" that, in particular, can damage children.
But the draft legislation also says that it will apply to "private communication services" and "private online cloud storage services".
This explicitly raises the prospect of a clash between a soon-to-be-created State body and providers like Apple (iMessage) and Facebook (WhatsApp), with their encrypted online messaging services.
And even though the law acknowledges the 'balancing' of privacy versus security, it appears to give priority to security.
"It is provided that the Media Commission's code making powers in relation to these services be explicitly limited to matters relating to content which it is a criminal offence to disseminate," it says. The Government has not yet elaborated on how it intends to proceed with requests to the encrypted service providers.
It may quietly never do so, instead leaving the prosecution of such activity to cases where clear evidence has been obtained outside the encrypted service.
In the meantime, it is unlikely that Garda Commissioner Harris's remarks on encryption will be the last we hear on this issue this year.
There is a fundamental tension between absolute privacy and optimum security. Ireland has yet to clarify which ideal it favours.