Government’s request for encryption backdoor rejected by WhatsApp

WhatsApp recently declined a government request to gain access to encrypted messages that could help the government track those who are planning terrorist operations in the country.

End-to-end encryption implemented by messaging services like WhatsApp is seriously impeding the ability of law enforcement agencies to track and nab terrorists.

According to information obtained by Sky News, WhatsApp has decided not to create a back door to help government agencies access encrypted messages that may help the latter prevent terrorist attacks.

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Terrorists are increasingly using encrypted apps to communicate with each other and to plan attacks across the country, a fact that the government is not comfortable with.

"It is crucially important that we can access their communications - and when we can't, it can provide a black hole for investigators," said a government source to Sky News.

The fact that terrorists have a better understanding of technology today and that more and more apps are now embracing encryption to protect their users' privacy is making it difficult for authorities to track terrorists or prevent attacks. Up to 80% of investigations on terrorist attacks and other crimes are stuck because the government cannot access communications between terrorists.

End-to-end encryption in messaging apps like iMessage, WhatsApp and Telegram ensure that messages sent and received by users are so well scrambled that the services themselves cannot access or read them. In such a case, it is impossible for them to share details with enforcement agencies that they themselves cannot access.

The information that WhatsApp can, and does, provide to authorities includes the name of an account, the date it was created, the last time it was accessed, the IP address of the device which was used to access it and the associated email address.

A number of technology companies and security experts have argued that end-to-end encryption protects the privacy of the public at large. Any backdoor created to enable authorities to access encrypted communications could also be exploited by hackers to obtain more sensitive information about users.

At the same time, such backdoors could be used by despotic governments to target journalists, human rights activists, defectors, and dissenters, thereby putting their very lives at great risk.

Last month, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that while the government is not in favour of a complete ban on encryption, government agencies should have the ability to monitor specific and targeted instances. She added that she doesn't want companies like WhatsApp to create backdoors to encryption but wants 'mature conversations between the tech companies and the Government' so that wider security is not compromised.

Even though Jonathan Evans, former head of MI5, believes that Britain will continue to face the Islamic terrorism for at least the next thirty years, he also believes that banning encryption altogether would also impact the cybersecurity of the society as a whole.

The Westminster Bridge attack had an 'energising effect' on Islamic radicals and they followed it up with further attacks in Manchester, London Bridge, and Finsbury Park, he added.

While understandably there is a very acute concern about counter-terrorism, it is not the only threat that we face. The way in which cyberspace is being used by criminals and by governments is a potential threat to the UK’s interests more widely," he said.

Source: Sky News