The UK government isn’t a fan of encryption. This year’s terrorist attacks in London and Manchester led to renewed calls for backdoors in encrypted messaging services, which former Prime Minister David Cameron said he’d ban in 2015. Now, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has argued that “real people” don’t care about security features such as end-to-end encryption found in software like WhatsApp.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Rudd claims the UK government has no intention of banning encryption and won’t be asking firms to create back doors. But she does want tech companies to come up with “options” that will help security agencies with their surveillance of terrorists and criminals.
Rudd suggests that so-called “real people” don’t care about someone potentially reading their private messages, as long as the apps aren’t too complicated. "Real people often prefer ease of use and a multitude of features to perfect, unbreakable security,” she writes.
“Who uses WhatsApp because it is end-to-end encrypted, rather than because it is an incredibly user-friendly and cheap way of staying in touch with friends and family? Companies are constantly making trade-offs between security and 'usability', and it is here where our experts believe opportunities may lie.”
Back in March, Rudd called WhatsApp “a secret place for terrorists.” But even if the encrypted messaging services could offer a solution whereby agencies can eavesdrop on specific conversations, there’s nothing stopping criminals from switching to another app that doesn’t adhere to the UK government’s rules.
Assuming messaging apps agreed to such a system, which is unlikely, companies say that what Rudd is suggesting can’t be done. "I know some will argue that it's impossible to have both – that if a system is end-to-end encrypted then it's impossible ever to access the communication," she said. "That might be true in theory. But the reality is very different."
Unsurprisingly, Rudd’s statements have been slammed by digital rights organizations. “The suggestion that real people do not care about the security of their communications is dangerous and misleading," said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.
"Some people want privacy from corporations, abusive partners or employers. Others may be worried about confidential information, or be working in countries with a record of human rights abuses. It is not the Home Secretary’s place to tell the public that they do not need end-to-end encryption.”