Amber Rudd demands 'back door' access to encrypted messaging apps

Elias Hubbard
August 2, 2017

And as Rudd is the person whose job it is to negotiate and set United Kingdom policy on domestic security, her reasoning should alarm us all.

Social media sites and web giants including YouTube are among the companies attending a San Francisco forum she is scheduled to take part in. "But the inability to gain access to encrypted data in specific and targeted instances... is right now severely limiting our agencies' ability to stop terrorist attacks and bring criminals to justice".

"Terrorists and extremists have sought to misuse your platforms to spread their hateful messages", Rudd is expected to say. It is not the Home Secretary's place to tell the public that they do not need end-to-end encryption. 'The suggestion that real people do not care about the security of their communications is unsafe and misleading, ' explains ORG chief executive Jim Killock in a statement to press. "Some people want privacy from corporations, abusive partners or employers", said Killock. Others may be anxious about confidential information, or be working in countries with a record of human rights abuses. And thanks to USA whistleblower Edward Snowden we also know that the United Kingdom government's security agency GCHQ illegally spied on human rights group Amnesty International. This is a practice made legal in the United Kingdom by Theresa May in 2016 with the passing of the Investigatory Powers (IP) Act.

Many of those programs have since been declared illegal, but the enormous breach of trust felt by the USA tech companies that had been working with the authorities to provide legal access to communications resulted in immediate efforts to encrypt all data and so cut off the NSA's data firehose. So it's the last bastion of secure communication for most.

The key information in Rudd's op-ed is that she insists the government doesn't actually want to ban encryption or compromise it with backdoors.

In particular, she claimed that it was important to have access to communication metadata (details about communications, such as who was in contact and for how long, but not the contents of the call) but was unwilling to say exactly what metadata she wanted, claiming those conversations were being held "in private".

Ms Rudd took on that argument and said that might be true "in theory" but that "the reality is very different".

In an article in the Daily Telegraph timed to coincide with Rudd's appearance at a closed event in San Francisco, Rudd argued: "Real people often prefer ease of use and a multitude of features to ideal, unbreakable security". Companies are constantly making trade-offs between security and "usability", and it is here where our expects believe opportunities may lie. After four militant attacks in Britain which killed 36 people this year, senior ministers have repeatedly demanded that the world's biggest internet companies do more to suppress extremist content and allow access to encrypted communications.

George Orwell quite literally couldn't have written that better himself.

Rudd said three quarters of Islamic State propaganda was shared within three hours of publication, underscoring the need for speed in taking down extremist posts. Indeed, she has now herself admitted that it is vital for many online facilities, such as online banking and shopping, which people use every day. Presumably, she would prefer it to be reserved only for herself and other more important people.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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