Amber Rudd: WhatsApp gives terrorists secret place to hide

Home Secretary says intelligence services must have access to encrypted messaging services following Westminster terrorist attacks

(Image credit: 2014 Getty Images)

Intelligence agencies must be given access to encrypted messaging services, even at the cost of compromising privacy, says Home Secretary Amber Rudd, following reports that Westminster attacker Khalid Masood connected to messaging app WhatsApp minutes before he killed four people last Wednesday.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Rudd said it was "completely unacceptable" that terrorists can use messaging systems to avoid surveillance.

She added: "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.

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"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 warrants. We need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp."

All messages sent on WhatsApp have end-to-end encryption, meaning they are unreadable if intercepted by anyone, including law enforcement agencies and even the app itself.

While Masood's phone is believed to have connected with WhatsApp, "police may not know what, if anything, was communicated", says the BBC.

Rudd said she was not opposed to encryption services, because they allow banks, businesses and families to communicate safely, but added that she believed internet companies must do more to tackle extremism online.

She has summoned WhatsApp, Facebook, Google and other online companies to a meeting at the Home Office on Thursday, when she will call time on extremists "using social media as their platform", reports The Telegraph.

Last week's attack "looks set to reignite the privacy-versus-secrecy debate in Europe," says Reuters, "especially after warnings from security officials that Western countries will be increasingly targeted as Islamic State loses ground in the Middle East".

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said there had to be a balance between the "right to know" and "the right to privacy".

Former Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick, now home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: "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."

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