Amber Rudd, the United Kingdom’s home secretary, recently mentioned that it is “completely unacceptable” that the government could not gain access to messages stored on mobile applications protected by end-to-end encryption, such as WhatsApp. Rudd is calling for the UK police and other intelligence agencies to be given access to such apps to thwart any future terrorist plots, coming in the wake of the attack in London last week (via The Guardian).
Rudd’s next step is summoning leaders of various technology companies to a meeting with the UK government on March 30 “to discuss what to do.” The home secretary mentioned that the government would be willing to pass completely new legislation focusing on encrypted messaging and mobile apps if the talks this Thursday don’t go her way. Rudd referred to WhatsApp, and similar apps, as potential “secret places” for terrorists to hide.
But she stressed it was her desire to persuade internet and social media companies to cooperate voluntarily with the government on this and also the posting of extremist material online.
Rudd added: “It is completely unacceptable. There should be no place for terrorists to hide.
“We need to make sure that organizations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.”
Rudd’s focus on WhatsApp is spurned by information that Khalid Masood — the individual behind the London attacks outside Parliament — used the Facebook-owned messaging app just minutes before the attack. While police believe Masood worked alone, they are seeking as much information about him as possible, including what or who he might have messaged through WhatsApp. While the police know Masood opened WhatsApp before the attacks, it is unknown whether or not he sent or received any messages.
In a statement, WhatsApp itself said that it was “horrified” by the events in London and would be “cooperating with law enforcement” as events proceed. The situation in the United Kingdom has already drawn parallels to the Apple-FBI dispute that lasted a few months last year, with Rudd directly mentioning Apple CEO Tim Cook at one point in an interview with the BBC.
Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple which also uses end-to-end encryption, has previously said it would be “wrong” for governments to force Apple to “build a back door” into products. But Ms Rudd said: “I would ask Tim Cook to think again about other ways of helping us work out how we can get into the situations like WhatsApp on the Apple phone.”
Apple, and those that side with the company, argued last year that it would be a slippery slope to place a backdoor into iOS for the sole purpose of assisting the government in its anti-terrorism measures. The company said that a “master key” would be able to get information from any iPad and iPhone, despite the FBI saying that all it wanted was key information from the iPhone 5c at the center of the debate.
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