Home Secretary Amber Rudd has made remarks suggesting a shocking misunderstanding of messaging apps that use end-to-end encryption, saying that they aid terrorism.
Taking aim at messaging apps like WhatsApp, Rudd wrote in The Telegraph that end-to-end encryption is “severely limiting our agencies’ ability to stop terrorist attacks”.
Rudd met with major technology companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft in a California summit on Tuesday.
In a joint statement, the companies involved said that they were working together to “substantially disrupt terrorists’ ability to use the internet in furthering their causes”.
What is end-to-end encryption?
End-to-end encryption is a way of securing that messages sent over apps can only be read by the recipient and the person who sent it.
Therefore, data is encrypted on the sender’s system, and only the recipient’s device is able to decrypt it.
This bypasses third parties looking to access this data, such as internet service providers, app service providers or hackers.
In an interview with the BBC, Rudd reinforced the government stance on encryption:
“We support encryption, we support its place in making sure that we have secure facilities in banking, in our daily lives when we use the internet. However, there’s a problem in terms of the growth of end-to-end encryption, it’s a problem for the security services and police who are not, under the normal way, under properly warranted paths, able to access that information”.
Thus, Rudd has argued for technology companies to work closer with the British government on end-to-end encryption, calling for companies to share more information when there is a “particular need” for it. More specifically, she argues companies could share more metadata with the government, but what type(s) of metadata she did not specify.
Rudd also stated that app service providers should remove uploaded terrorist data, or even prevent it from being uploaded in the first place.
Critics of this view have said that any sort of ‘back door’ to encrypted data could be abused by hackers, posing even more of a security threat.
Jim Killock, the executive director of the UK digital liberties Open Rights Group, said that “compelling companies to put backdoors into encrypted services would make millions of ordinary people less secure online. We all rely on encryption to protect our ability to communicate, shop and bank safely”.
Furthermore, some have slammed Rudd’s comments to say that if WhatsApp reformed how they encrypted data, terrorist groups could just switch to another end-to-end encrypted app that doesn’t have any ties or work with the UK government.
In response to Rudd’s claim that ‘real people’ don’t need end-to-end encryption, Jim Killock also said that “the suggestion that real people do not care about the security of their communications is dangerous and misleading. Some people want privacy from corporations, abusive partners or employers. Others may be worried about confidential information”.
IT and internet lawyer Graham Smith tweeted that “if you take technical steps to make the internet unsafe for terrorists and criminals, you make it unsafe for the rest of us”.