UK government: Terrorists should not be able to communicate secretly via WhatsApp

Tyrone Stewart

WhatsApp’s use of end-to-end encryption has come under scrutiny from the UK government after it was revealed that Khalid Masood, who killed four and injured dozens more last Wednesday, had interacted with the app just minutes before his attack.

The government’s concerns surrounding messaging apps were voiced by home secretary Amber Rudd – who has plans to meet with technology firms to discuss ways to allow the government and intelligence services access to chats on encrypted platforms.

“There should be no place for terrorists to hide. We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other,” said Rudd, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

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

The UK government’s demands, predominantly aimed at Facebook's WhatsApp, are similar to calls from the US government surrounding Apple’s encryption over the last few years and the recent battle between Amazon and the Arkansas police over possible Echo recordings that could hold key to a murder case.

“If I was talking to Tim Cook, I would say to him this is something completely different,” said Rudd in response to Apple’s defensiveness.

She continued: “We’re not saying open up, we’re not going into the cloud – we don’t want to do all sorts of things like that. But, we do want them to recognise that they have a responsibility to engage with government, to engage with law enforcement agencies, when there is a terrorist situation. We would do it all through the carefully thought through legally covered arrangements but they cannot get away with saying ‘we are a different situation’ – they are not.”