1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

UK's Rudd launches attack on messaging encryption

March 26, 2017

Home Secretary Amber Rudd condemned encryption just days after a London terrorist attack, before which the offender reportedly used Whatsapp. She published a long commentary on the issue, as well as a BBC interview.

Instant Messengers on a smartphone
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kastl

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said on Sunday it was "completely unacceptable" that messaging services with encryption technology offered "a secret place for terrorists to communicate."

"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," Rudd told BBC's "Andrew Marr Show."

"But in this situation we need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted Whatsapp.

"We are 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. 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.

"We would do it all through the carefully thought-through legally covered arrangements but they cannot get away with saying 'we are a different situation'. They are not."

Her comments came after a terror attack in London killed five people and injured scores of others. Local media reported that attacker Khalid Masood was active on WhatsApp just minutes before using his car to mow down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge.

Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd is seen appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show
Amber Rudd's comments, both in print and on TV, came just days after an attacker struck central LondonImage: Reuters/BBC/J. Overs

Meeting with social media firms

National daily "The Daily Telegraph" published on Sunday a separate commentary from Rudd that called for social media companies to help fight against terror groups.

"We need the help of social media companies, the Googles, the Twitters, the Facebooks of this world. And the smaller ones, too: platforms such as Telegram, Wordpress and Justpaste.it," she wrote.

"We need them to take a more proactive and leading role in tackling the terrorist abuse of their platforms. We need them to develop further technology solutions. We need them to set up an industry-wide forum to address the global threat."

Rudd wrote that she was meeting with tech leaders next week to discuss options.

Screenshot of IS YouTube videos
British lawmakers have condemned Youtube for running content from extremist groupsImage: YouTube

Foreign secretary condemns web firms

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a separate "Sunday Times" interview that he was disgusted by web firms running advertisements alongside extremist videos.

"I’m furious about it,” he said. “It’s disgusting. They need to stop just making money out of prurient violent material," he was quoted as saying.

"They need to develop new systems and algorithms to detect this stuff and remove it. They are not acting when they are tipped off," he said.

Security flaws in Whatsapp and Telegram

Earlier this month security firm Check Point revealed a flaw that could let hackers break into WhatsApp or Telegram messaging accounts using the very encryption intended to protect messages.

It publicly revealed the vulnerability after it was patched, saying the flaw posed a danger to "hundreds of millions" of users accessing the messaging platform from web browsers in computers, as opposed to mobile applications.

Earlier in March Wikileaks published a trove of documents that revealed a branch of the CIA had the ability to bypass encryption methods used by popular mobile messaging apps by attack the operating system of the phone rather than breaking the encryption itself.

Internet freedom declines

Activist group Freedom House published a November report that found internet freedom had declined for a sixth consecutive year in 2016 as governments cracked down on social media and messaging applications.

"Popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been subject to growing censorship for several years, but governments are now increasingly going after messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram," said Sanja Kelly, director of the study.

"Although the blocking of these tools affects everyone, it has an especially harmful impact on human rights defenders, journalists, and marginalized communities who often depend on these apps to bypass government surveillance," said Kelly.

WhatsApp has more than a billion users, while Telegram, often cited as the preferred communication tool of jihadists, claims only 100 million or so users.

Berlin attacker Anis Amri allegedly used Telegram to communicate his plans nine months before his fatal Christmas market attack.

aw/kl (Reuters, AFP, AP)