UK officials want to fight terrorism by forcing WhatsApp to release users’ messages

What’s up, WhatsApp?
What’s up, WhatsApp?
Image: AP Photo/Patrick Sison
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The UK home secretary on Sunday told the BBC it’s “completely unacceptable” that intelligence agencies can’t access WhatsApp messages.

After learning that Briton Khalid Masood used WhatsApp just minutes before killing four people in central London last week, home secretary Amber Rudd said she was meeting with technology companies this week “to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp.”

“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,” she said.

All WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted, which means they can only be seen by the sender and the recipient. The Facebook-owned platform’s security makes it a popular service in countries where governments have blocked other messaging platforms to curb dissent. Federal employees in the US worried about their agencies losing funding and facing gag orders under president Donald Trump have also turned to encrypted messaging since his inauguration.

Rudd was one of several security officials in Europe who criticized tech firms’ refusal thus far to help governments bypass those protections.

“Something has to be done to make sure that we can apply a more consistent form of interception of communication in all parts of the way in which terrorists invade our lives,” said Rob Wainwright, head of the European Union law enforcement agency Europol.

Rudd was more specific. Speaking of Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has opposed government demands that the company build a “backdoor” into their products for investigators to access private information, she said: “I would ask Tim Cook to think again about other ways of helping us work out how we can get into the situations like WhatsApp on the Apple phone.”