WhatsApp's encryption helps terrorists communicate safely: UK

Ms Rudd said on Sunday that there must be "no place for terrorists to hide", following reports that the Westminster attacker Masood was on chat platform WhatsApp before his deadly assault on the streets surrounding Parliament. Apple found itself ensnarled in the debate previous year as authorities sought to unlock the phones of the San Bernardino shooters, who killed 14 people at a center for adults with disabilities in December 2015.

"Many messaging apps only encrypt messages between you and them, but WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you're communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp", explains the app.

Companies must cooperate more with law enforcement agencies and should stop offering a "secret place for terrorists to communicate" using encrypted messages, British interior minister Amber Rudd said on Sunday.

Rudd's attack on encrypted messaging apps follows calls for Google and its subsidiary companies, such as YouTube, to do more to deal with extremist material on their sites.

Apps including WhatsApp can still provide useful information for intelligence services through what is known as "metadata".

In a statement to Bloomberg News, A representative of WhatsApp said: "We are horrified by the attack carried out in London earlier this week and are cooperating with law enforcement as they continue their investigations".

WhatsApp added end-to-end encryption to all of its messages in April 2016, enabling it by default on all conversations. "It used to be that people would steam open envelopes or just listen in on phones when they wanted to find out what people were doing, legally, through warranty". However, as authorities are still trying to determine Masood's motive and if he had any accomplices, the case would need all the clues it can acquire, one of which would be why Masood accessed his WhatsApp account shortly before launching the attack.

Khalid Masood was active on the messaging app about two minutes before he launched a violent attack that killed four people near Britain's Houses of Parliament in Westminster, according to a screenshot published on the Daily Mail website last week.

"There should be no place for terrorists to hide", she told the BBC's Andrew Marr.

"Compelling companies to put back doors into encrypted services would make millions of ordinary people less secure online", Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, a British non-profit, said.

As the tech industry body TechUK said, we need to consider the full range of security threats faced by the United Kingdom when discussing the use of end-to-end encryption. "WhatsApp defends its policy of encryption by arguing that protecting its one billion users" privacy is one of the company's "core beliefs". Encrypted information contained in WhatsApp might shed some light on whether Masood acted alone or if he was acting on part of a larger terrorists effort.

"We have no sympathy for terrorists", he said.

While you may initially agree with Rudd's opinion, it's worth remembering that terrorists have many ways to communicate with one another and it's unlikely they'd be silly enough to use something as popular and widespread as WhatsApp when many low-key alternatives exist.

Encryption is what allows us to bank and shop safely; it is what keeps our medical records secure and our private lives safe from prying eyes. The police's struggle to access WhatsApp private messages is an echo of a scandalous dispute between Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation past year, when Apple refused to unlock the iPhone that was used by a San Bernardino terrorist. First, having backdoor access to every messaging platform wouldn't necessarily help MI5, the CIA, or any other intelligence agency.

  • Carolyn Briggs