UK Government wants to stop WhatsApp encrypted messages

UK interior minister Amber Rudd has said that tech companies must so more and work with the police and stop enabling terrorists to use encrypted messaging. She is speaking after it was revealed that terrorist Khalid Masood – responsible for the London terror attack last week – sent a encrypted message using WhatsApp just moments before killing 4 people.

Because of the way WhatsApp works the messages are encrypted once sent so they can’t be intercepted by a third party, which includes the law enforcement agencies. Although they can still be retrieved from the sending or receiving device and it is not yet known if the police will be able to gain any information from the terrorists phone.

Mrs Rudd stopped short of calling for a change in the law making encrypted message systems like whatsapp illegal or requiring the companies to provide decryption keys to the police. But she said that it was unacceptable that Whatsapp and other encrypted chat companies provided a way for terrorist to be able to communicate secretly with each other.

As usual after an atrocity the knee jerk reaction by politicians is to say encryption is bad and only terrorists and criminals would want to use it and anyone who disagrees must have something to hide. But I expect most people have some information they want to communicate without wondering if hacker or perhaps a nosey worker at the phone company is going to read it, and encryption is the only way to achieve this when sending data across the internet. Building any form of backdoor for the law enforcement is not a solution either as any deliberate holes in the security can easily be found by hackers or abused by the authorities.

As many of these messaging companies are based outside the UK the British government might find persuading them to change their software or remove the encryption difficult. Look at the problem that the FBI had in trying to get Apple to decrypt the phone of the San Francisco shoot. Even if the bigger services such as WhatsApp where persuaded remove the end to end encryption from thier app, there will always be small companies that will continue to offer such encryption services. Terrorists are becoming increasing more tech savvy and could even switch to open source encryption technology which the government would be powerless to do anything against.

Once again we are in the debate over privacy versus keeping people safe. But its extremely unlikely that the police would have been able to stop the terrorist attack committed by Kaleed Masood even if they could have intercepted the message when he sent it.