Amber Rudd, UK’s Home Secretary has called for the police and intelligence agencies to be given access to WhatsApp and other encrypted messaging services to thwart future terror attacks, prompting opposition politicians and civil liberties groups to say her demand was to stop Encryption is unrealistic and disproportionate.
The home secretary said it was “completely unacceptable” that the government could not read messages protected by end-to-end encryption and said she had summoned leaders of technology companies to a meeting on Thursday 30 March to discuss what to do.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Rudd refused to rule out passing new legislation to tackle encrypted messaging if she did not get what she wanted.
But she stressed it was her desire to persuade internet and social media companies to cooperate voluntarily with the government on this and also the posting of extremist material online.
Rudd added: “It is completely unacceptable. 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.”
She indicated that she hoped to be able to win them over without resorting to legislation.“These people have families, have children as well,” she said. “They should be on our side, and I’m going to try to win that argument.”
Her call came after it emerged that police were investigating reports that Khalid Masood, the British extremist who killed four people outside parliament before he was shot dead, had used WhatsApp a few minutes before he launched his attack on Wednesday.
Police have said they believe Masood was essentially a “lone actor”, though counter-terrorism officers continue to search for more details about his background and associations.
It emerged on Sunday that Masood had been on the radar of the intelligence community for potential links to extremism in 2010, after he returned from teaching English in Saudi Arabia.
A 30-year-old man was arrested in Birmingham on Sunday on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts, making him the 12th person to be held over the incident. A 58-year-old man who was arrested in Birmingham on Thursday remained in police custody after his detention was extended under anti-terrorism legislation. All other people arrested in the aftermath of Masood’s attack have been released.
Critics questioned both the need for powers of the kind Rudd seemed to be demanding, and also the practicalities of trying to use UK domestic legislation to curb the activities of global internet companies largely based in the US.