Less than two months after she denied pitching for a complete ban on encryption, Home Secretary Amber Rudd says she doesn’t want terrorists to take advantage of privacy features in messaging services like WhatsApp.
Amber Rudd says terrorists and far right extremists are taking advantage of encryption settings in WhatsApp to spread their ideologies.
In an article titled ‘We don’t want to ban encryption, but our inability to see what terrorists are plotting undermines our security’ that she wrote in The Telegraph, Rudd said that the government’s ability to fight terrorists and preventing attacks is severely limited by encryption that messaging services like WhatsApp have implemented.
End-to-end encryption in WhatsApp and several other messaging apps prevents anyone except for the recipient to access private messages, photos or videos. Neither WhatsApp not a government agency with a warrant can read such messages since they are automatically encrypted as soon as they are sent by a user.
She added that Khalid Masood, the terrorist who ran his car into innocents in Westminster Bridge and also stabbled a police constable, received all his motivation by watching terrorist content on social media. She also said that Daesh (ISIS) created 11,000 social media accounts in May alone.
However, she stirred up a hornet’s nest when she claimed that encryption isn’t as important as believed as “real people” do not see encryption as a priority when using messaging services like WhatsApp.
“Real people often prefer ease of use and a multitude of features to perfect, unbreakable security … Who uses WhatsApp because it is end-to-end encrypted, rather than because it is an incredibly user-friendly and cheap way of staying in touch with friends and family? Companies are constantly making trade-offs between security and ‘usability’, and it is here where our experts believe opportunities may lie,” she said.
Rudd has thus assumed that people do not care about end-to-end encryption and this gives her government an opportunity to corner messaging services. She hopes that such services would voluntarily move away from end-to-end encryption since it isn’t necessary for real people.
“The suggestion that real people do not care about the security of their communications is dangerous and misleading. Some people want privacy from corporations, abusive partners or employers. Others may be worried about confidential information, or be working in countries with a record of human rights abuses. It is not the Home Secretary’s place to tell the public that they do not need end-to-end encryption,” said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group to Business Insider UK.
At the same time, it has often been said that if encryption is removed to enable government agencies to access private messages, such loopholes can also enable cyber criminals to access such messages. Today’s hackers possess the most innovative tools to exploit any vulnerability in databases that hold large amounts of customer data and they have repeatedly demonstrated their abilities.
Rudd says that she doesn’t want a complete ban on end-to-end encryption, but wants government agencies to have the ability to monitor specific and targeted instances. At the same time, she also doesn’t want companies like WhatsApp to create back doors to encryption but wants ‘mature conversations between the tech companies and the Government’ so that wider security is not compromised.
“It is about working together so we can find a way for our intelligence services, in very specific circumstances, to get more information on what serious criminals and terrorists are doing online,” she added.