UK politician calls for backdoors in encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp

midian182

TechSpot Editor
Staff member

As is so often the case in the aftermath of such incidents, the London terror attack last Wednesday has led to renewed calls by politicians for law enforcement to have backdoor access to encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp.

Khalid Masood, who killed four people in Westminster, reportedly connected to WhatsApp not long before the attack took place, though it's unclear whether he sent any messages.

Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “We need to make sure that organizations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don't provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.”

"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,” she said “But on this situation we need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp."

Facebook-owned WhatsApp finished its rollout of end-to-end encryption in April last year. It followed Apple’s battle with the FBI over the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone, which resulted in the government agency reportedly handing over $1.3 million to professional gray hat hackers, who unlocked the handset using a zero-day exploit.

Most people, including Tim Cook, disagree with the idea of governments having backdoor access to our communications, but Rudd called on the Apple CEO directly to do something about the issue: "I would ask Tim Cook to think again about other ways of helping us work out how we can get into the situations like WhatsApp on the Apple phone."

The Home Secretary is set to meet with technology firms this week. While the setting up of an industry board to tackle online hate speech, propaganda, and recruitment will be the main topic on the agenda, the subject of backdoor access to encrypted services will also be discussed.

Rudd isn’t calling for a total ban on encryption. She told Sky News: “End-to-end encryption has a place. Cybersecurity is really important and getting it wrong costs the economy and costs people money, so I support end-to-end encryption.”

WhatsApp said it was “horrified at the attack” and was co-operating with the investigation.

In the wake of the 2015 Paris attacks, a number of governments and intelligence agencies around the world called for weakened encryption or backdoor access. The Information Technology Industry Council issued a statement opposing such actions.

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Theinsanegamer

TS Evangelist
Another blatant power grab. every government knows that anybody looking to do harm would immediately move, or has already moved from, whatsapp as soon as this news broke.

It's like playing whack a mole, except the mole is on another board entirely.
 
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Protracker

TS Rookie
It would be more effective to ban cards than Encryption. If you cant drive a car you cant use it as a weapon. Put a backdoor in a chat app and we will just move on to the next chat app that doesn't have a backdoor
 
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stewi0001

TS Evangelist
Platinum
In a sense, doing something like this would really play into terrorists hand. Basically terrorists are encouraging governments to become big brother thus making our governments become the terror. I suppose either way it will be a lose lose scenario.
 

Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
There is no problem with having the "feature" as long as a Federal Judge (not to be mistaken with a FISA Judge) hears the complaint, reviews the evidence, then issues a proper warrant. The issue in the USA is that these FISA Judges are become nothing more than rubber stamp authorities where by there is no system of checks and balances, which gets highly abused. Also, if the Judge and/or PA were held to the same standard as any other citizen, they should be liable for abuse of power with penalties equal to, or greater than the original infractions and their potential penalties.
 

gusticles41

TS Evangelist
“We need to make sure that organizations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don't provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.”
The intentions are good- Curb terrorism. But at the expense of the trust of your people? They have to draw the line somewhere. These applications are designed with privacy in mind, which is completely obliterated if we know at any point in time there's a backdoor that could be exploited. Like any other tool, you can't easily control if it's used for evil.
 

yukka

TechSpot Paladin
There are two sides to the debate.

It is crazy that terrorists or other illegal actors can communicate completely invisibly using free apps that are easily acquired on any popular handheld phone on the market. Absolutely crazy. Governments and security agencies need access to the illegal actors communications to protect us and they don't have access currently.

However, if there are back doors put in these communication applications that become accessible by illegal actors themselves, then everyone who uses the services are at risk. And track records have shown that there isn't much that cannot leak from the security sector.

The problem I see is this - the internet was never really designed with this situation in mind. It used to be some basic websites. Then it was anonymous multiplayer gaming (complete with their nasty forums - looking at you CS and Quake). Now social media sites have opened the internet up to the masses and its caused many issues. There is no way the amount of abuse that occurs on Twitter to individuals publicly should ever happen. The pictures and videos of horrors that are uploaded and appear in peoples random news feeds shouldn't happen either but theres no accountability - its usually just an upload from an account that was created using a random email address and banning that account just makes the user create a new random account. Its broken and a fundamental change is required. Until you have to sign up to services using a verified account method (like an actual digital passport - and not the Microsoft kind) then services will continue to be breeding grounds for anonymous abuse and dodgy behaviour. Terrorists and illegal actors may move to underground methods but those platforms won't be supported by billion dollar companies patching their products every time a bug is found.

Or we just ignore it and crack on. Its a mess.
 
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Dr Aggressive

TS Enthusiast
Lolololo "we have to have backdoors in our apps so we can have unlimited immigration from 3rd world countries", best argument ever!
 
During the Arab spring theses same governments whooped and applauded the ability of freedom fighters (also read terrorist if you were the government) to communicate and organise beyond the control of the state.

At the recent funeral of Martin McGuiness he was called a "freedom fighter" by Gerry Adams which differs from the label "terrorist" applied by those whose relatives were murdered or mutilated by the IRA.

Even the USA was founded by unrest against the standing authority at the time - the only reason they are patriots is the US started to write its own history after events including a little tea party as the Red Coats had not been given a back door to the "US patriots" communications.

Every time there is knee jerk legislation we loose some of our humanity and surrender our ability to challenge the state - in case you forgot a certain Austrian worked on such paranoia in the 1930's and dragged the world in to its second global conflict.
 

dms96960

TS Guru
There is no problem with having the "feature" as long as a Federal Judge (not to be mistaken with a FISA Judge) hears the complaint, reviews the evidence, then issues a proper warrant. The issue in the USA is that these FISA Judges are become nothing more than rubber stamp authorities where by there is no system of checks and balances, which gets highly abused. Also, if the Judge and/or PA were held to the same standard as any other citizen, they should be liable for abuse of power with penalties equal to, or greater than the original infractions and their potential penalties.
The other issue is this:
http://www.nbcnewyork.com/investigations/Brooklyn-Prosecutor-Indicted-Illegal-Wiretaps-417204533.html
 

dogofwars

TS Addict
Even if it is not encrypted do you really think they would be able to act on such short notice? The terrorist act few minutes after, what's to know if he will use snapchat or facebook or something else, how will they know in time?
And even there if they monitored specifically the guy, they would not have the time to react.

The time to acquire the information, ingest it and make sure it is not a false positive and call the specific local force the damage is done or well on it's way. Even when the terrorist are on their watch list the terrorist still manage to do their ****.

Why would we tolerate to have our privacy reduced with such performance. The best thing is to have cops where it count and have them equip properly.