UK says it is ‘unacceptable’ that intelligence agencies can’t access encrypted WhatsApp messages
Terrorist attacks – both organized and carried out by lone wolf attackers – in Europe and the US in recent years have prompted a heated debate over how much access intelligence agencies should have to private communications on messaging services like WhatsApp.
Over the weekend, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd made clear the country’s stand on the issue, saying on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that it was “completely unacceptable” that messages could not be opened.
“We need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into encrypted services like WhatsApp,” said Rudd.
These statements came after newspapers reported that Khalid Masood, the perpetrator of last week’s attack at Westminster that killed four people, had used WhatsApp shortly before carrying out the attack.
A WhatsApp spokesperson has since said that they are cooperating with law enforcement investigations, but stopped short of giving more details.
WhatsApp rolled out end-to-end encryption by default in April 2016, and this level of security has generally been regarded as a necessary defense against government snooping or cybercriminals.
Tech companies have been united in their resistance to government attempts to obtain data. The Facebook-owned WhatsApp publicly backed Apple last year in its fight with the FBI over the unlocking of the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, as did giants like Google and Microsoft.
In a separate article for the Sunday Telegraph, Rudd wrote that they “need the help of social media companies, the Googles, the Twitters, the Facebooks of the world”. She also called on smaller outfits like Telegram and Wordpress to do more in tackling terrorist and extremist activity on their platforms, underscoring the ongoing tension between government security agencies and tech companies.