Sunday 26 March 2017

Amber Rudd: Whatsapp Must Be Accessible By Intelligence Services

Amber Rudd

Technology companies should no longer be able to provide encrypted messaging services that cannot be accessed in emergencies by the security services, the home secretary, Amber Rudd, said on Sunday.

Speaking after it emerged that the police were investigating reports that Khalid Masood had used the encrypted WhatsApp service just before he launched the attack in Westminister, in which he killed four people, Rudd said it was “completely unacceptable” that the police and security services were shut out from messages of this kind.

She also signalled a renewed determination to stop internet companies publishing extremist material online by declaring that they now had to accept they were “publishing companies”, with the responsibilities that went with that, not just technology firms providing a platform.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, Rudd refused to rule out passing new legislation to tackle encrypted messaging and the posting of extremist material online, although she stressed her desire to persuade internet and social media companies to cooperate voluntarily with the government on these issues.

The home secretary also said she would be holding talks with firms this week “to ask them to work with us” on these matters.

The police and security services have for some years expressed concerns about the ability of firms to provide messaging services using end-to-end encryption that means texts and emails cannot be accessed in extremis by the service provider, or by the authorities demanding that information with a warrant.

Asked about this, Rudd said: “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.

“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 warrantry, but in this situation we need to make sure that our intelligences services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp.”

Rudd accepted that there was a parallel with the situation in the United States, where Apple is resisting attempts by the FBI to get it to rewrite its iPhone software to make it easier for the authorities to get into locked iPhones. Rudd said her message to Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, would be to “think again”.

She stressed that she did not want the security services to be able to access all encrypted messages. She was just talking about “carefully thought-through, legally covered arrangements”, she said.

Asked if she would be willing to legislate to force companies to allow a “back door” to enable encrypted messages to be read in cases involving terrorism, she replied: “We have to have a situation where we can have our security services get into the terrorists’ communications. That’s absolutely the case. Of course, I will have those conversations [with the industry], and we will see where they go.”

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.”

In an article for the Sunday Telegraph, Rudd said the firms being invited to her summit this week were not just the large ones, such as Google, Twitter and Facebook, but smaller platforms such as Telegram, Wordpress and She said these firms had to take a more proactive role too.

On the subject of extremist material appearing online, Rudd said 250,000 pieces of extremist material had been taken down already since 2010 but internet companies were still not doing enough to face up to their responsibilities in this area.

“What these companies have to realise is that they are now publishing companies. They are not technology companies. They are platforms,” she said.

She said the government “will not resile from taking action” if necessary. But she expressed doubts about a German proposal to impose punitive fines on social media companies that do not remove extremist material and she stressed her desire to get firms to agree to do more voluntarily, through the creation of an industry-wide board.

“I would much rather have a situation where we get all these companies around the table agreeing to do it,” she said.

“What I’m saying is the best people who understand the technology, who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff even being put up, not just taking it down, are going to be them. That’s why I would like to have an industry-wide board set up where they do it themselves.”

Rudd also suggested that the ban on laptops being taken on board aircraft as hand luggage could be extended. Last week the government announced that this ban would apply to incoming flights from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey, but when Rudd was asked why the ban was not applied more widely, if laptops could be dangerous, she would not rule out a blanket ban.

“It’s difficult to say how far this will go, whether we may at some stage arrive at that place, but at the moment the government has made the decision on where to have that ban in place, based on the intelligence we have received,” she said.

Rudd also confirmed that police believed Masood was as a lone attacker. But she would not say what exactly MI5 knew about him before the attack, and refused to confirm that he was shot by a personal protection officer for the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, not a regular armed officer guarding the Commons.



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