The UK government is gathering itself for an assault on end-to-end encrypted messaging services, demanding that providers including WhatsApp offer intelligence agencies access to content following the London attack.
It is believed that Masood sent messages through the WhatsApp mobile app just before the attack, which lasted for only a few minutes.
On BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Rudd said that providers of end-to-end encryption services, such as Telegram, Signal, and WhatsApp, provide a “secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other,” and such services are “completely unacceptable.”
“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,” Rudd said. “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.”
End-to-end encryption (E2E) not only encrypts messages on the users’ device before sending it to recipients for decryption but also prevents any other party — including the service provider, ISPs, telecoms, and government agencies — from being able to read these messages.
Companies such as WhatsApp, therefore, cannot hand over this information even under court order, and if cyberattackers should compromise the servers supporting E2E, they too could not decipher message content.
One way to do so in the future is to create so-called backdoors into software for the use of law enforcement agencies, but doing so weakens the entire structure of both privacy and security for the general public as a whole.
Should the UK government attempt to ban E2E outright, this is likely to cause an outcry not only by civil rights campaigners, tech vendors, and security experts but potentially from members of the general public who use these popular services and want to maintain this level of privacy.
Apple has been taken to court by the FBI for refusing to unlock an iPhone used by a shooter in the San Bernardino case, and while fighting an order to unlock the device, law enforcement paid another company for a security vulnerability which allowed them to do so anyway.
Rudd told the BBC that Apple CEO Tim Cook, who believes it is wrong for governments to request that Apple builds backdoors into products, should “think again about other ways of helping us work out how we can get into the situations like WhatsApp on the Apple phone.”
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