WhatsApp encryption: Terrorist attacks are not a valid excuse for demanding backdoor access

The recent terrorist attack at Westminster in London has yet again kicked off a debate about encrypted messaging services in general and WhatsApp in particular.


The recent terrorist attack at Westminster in London has yet again kicked off a debate about encrypted messaging services in general and WhatsApp in particular.

To recap, a terrorist in the UK drove a vehicle into pedestrians at Westminster, killing two and injuring many more. He then crashed the vehicle while attempting to enter parliament and stabbed an unarmed officer, who later died. Police shot and killed the assailant.

The WhatsApp connection came to light when it was revealed that the terrorist used the messaging app moments before the attack.

Reuters reports that UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd, told Sky News that it was “completely unacceptable” that police did not have access to the service. She was aghast that terrorists could talk to each other in such a secure manner.

She’s reported to have told the BBC that, “There should be no place for terrorists to hide.”

Rather than demand a backdoor into services like WhatsApp however, as the FBI did in the San Bernardino shooter case, she states that it should be perfectly feasible to give authorities access to WhatsApp messages and the like when needed.

In such specific instances, it’s easy to see how backdoor access and snooping rights to these services can help security personnel. However, as with all debates raging around encryption and governmental access, the fundamental question of prevention of governmental misuse is never addressed.

The NSA’s surveillance programs unveiled by Snowden and the FBI’s unreasonable demands in the San Bernardino case are perfect examples of government entities overstepping legal and ethical boundaries in the name of security.

The other issue, of course, is that a built-in backdoor can and will be discovered by hackers with malicious intent.

As heinous as such terrorist attacks are, using fear, misinformation and a misplaced sense of morality to drive support for state-sponsored surveillance is disingenuous at best.


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