British Interior Minister wants tech companies to cooperate more with law enforcement.
The UK has in recent years become one of the most heavily monitored nations on the planet. CCTV cameras are everywhere, and the nation recently passed a law which allows government officials to request copies of your internet history. Now, the interior minister Amber Rudd wants tech companies to stop offering peer-to-peer encryption in message services like Telegram and Whatsapp.
In the wake of the last week’s attack outside the British parliament, when British-born Khalid Masood plowed a truck through pedestrians and stabbed a police officer to death, this sentiment is certainly understandable. In fact, Masood is now known to have sent messages across an encrypted service shortly before the attack. “It is completely unacceptable, there should be no place for terrorists to hide. We need to make sure organizations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.” said Rudd.
Meanwhile, Brian Paddick, who is a home affairs spokesperson for the opposition Liberal Democrats, and former deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan Police, questions whether such an act would actually help. “The real question is, could lives have been saved in London last week if end-to-end encryption had been banned? All the evidence suggests that the answer is no,” he said.
Rudd claimed that what she’s advocating isn’t anything extreme, but a measured response. She cited the recent case where Apple refused to help the FBI break into an iPhone: “This is something completely different. We’re not saying open up, we don’t want to go into the Cloud, we don’t want to do all sorts of things like that,” she said. “But we do want them to recognize that they have a responsibility to engage with government, to engage with law enforcement agencies when there is a terrorist situation.” Rudd wants to set up a national board for tech companies so they can better help police their services and keep them from being used by criminals and terrorists.
Again, whether such a solution would help is debatable, but the more pertinent question is what cost it will have. On one hand, we might make it a bit more difficult for terrorists to communicate (though certainly not impossible). On the other hand, like a tear in fabric, once you begin stripping away freedoms and privacy, it’s easy to keep going. This is another example of the great debate of the 21st century: What is more important, privacy or security?