WhatsApp

UK official wants police access to WhatsApp messages

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Written by Kamil Arli

According to the Forbes article UK official wants police access to WhatsApp messages.

The British government is putting renewed pressure on Facebook’s most popular messaging service, saying its intelligence services should get access to WhatsApp messages following the London attacks last week.

Khalid Masood was active on the messaging app about two minutes before he launched a violent attack that killed four people near Britain’s Houses of Parliament in Westminster, according to a screenshot published on the Daily Mail website last week.

U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd will be meeting representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter this week, and told Sky News, “They’re going to get a lot more than a ticking off.”

 Terrorists are talking to each other on a formal platform and it can’t be accessed

“It is absurd to have a situation where terrorists are talking to each other on a formal platform and it can’t be accessed. I need to find a solution with them for that,” she said.

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Separately, Rudd told a BBC news program on Sunday that, “We need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp.”

Britain’s home secretary, Amber Rudd, said Sunday that intelligence services needed the ability to “get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp.” (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The company was “horrified at the attack” and was cooperating with the investigation

WhatsApp, which is actively used by more than one billion people, could not be reached for comment. A spokesperson told BBC News that the company was “horrified at the attack” and was cooperating with the investigation.

Rudd’s comments put WhatsApp and parent company Facebook in an awkward position: since WhatsApp rolled out default, end-to-end encryption on the app last year, it has said that no one including its own engineers can access messages sent through the service.

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That means authorities who want a so-called backdoor to the service can’t technically get one either.

“When you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to,” WhatsApp’s billionaire founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton said when they announced the full encryption roll-out in April 2016.

“No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.”

“Turn over information we repeatedly said we don’t have.”

One month after the encryption roll-out, a Brazilian court shut down access to WhatsApp for three days after it refused to comply with an order to share user data with authorities on a drug trafficking case.

WhatsApp’s Koum argued back then that his company was being told to “turn over information we repeatedly said we don’t have.”

So why is Britain’s defence secretary even bothering to make a public call for access to WhatsApp messages? One reason may be public posturing. The government looks better when it’s shown putting pressure on technology firms like WhatsApp to help its investigation, rather than shrugging and saying it can’t get past the encryption standards.

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On the other hand, authorities may also be holding out hope that WhatsApp will make compromises to help them in matters of security, because of recent changes the company has already made to its privacy policy.

In August 2016, WhatsApp sparked uproar among its users when it announced it was changing its privacy policy for the first time in four years in order to share more user data with Facebook. This would allow Facebook to better target ads at WhatsApp users that looked at their Facebook Newsfeeds.

British intelligence services may be hoping this means WhatsApp can be pliable enough to make more concessions and changes — though again, this seems unlikely.

Rather than tweak their privacy policy again, WhatsApp’s founders would have carry out a bigger U-turn on their end-to-end encryption to allow any kind of government access or backdoor. And that would probably be one concession too far.

About the author

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Kamil Arli

Editor of DigitalReview.co. Digital Media Consultant

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