Khalid Masood, the British man behind the London attack last week that killed four people and left many more injured, was said to have checked his WhatsApp account just minutes before he mowed down pedestrians with his SUV on the Westminster Bridge, crashed the vehicle into the gates of Parliament, and rushed into the grounds to fatally stab a policeman who was on guard duty.
There has so far been no evidence that Masood used the Facebook-owned WhatsApp for communications regarding the terrorist attack. However, that has not stopped the government of the United Kingdom from pushing WhatsApp to do more in the fight against terrorism, in relation to the encryption that it applies to all messages sent through the service.
WhatsApp, Other Communication Tools As 'Secret Place For Terrorists'
In appearances on BBC and Sky News, Amber Rudd, the United Kingdom Home Secretary, urged WhatsApp and other encrypted communication services to open up their platforms to police and intelligence teams for surveillance.
Rudd claims that there is a need to ensure that WhatsApp and other services do not become "a secret place for terrorists," as their communications on encrypted platforms are protected from government surveillance.
"It is completely unacceptable, there should be no place for terrorists to hide," Rudd said, adding that governments should be able to legally access the contents of encrypted messages on certain situations.
One such situation, Rudd believes, is if Masood used WhatsApp to send or receive a message related to the Westminster attack. However, as authorities are still trying to determine Masood's motive and if he had any accomplices, the case would need all the clues it can acquire, one of which would be why Masood accessed his WhatsApp account shortly before launching the attack.
It was reported that Masood had been on the sights of the intelligence community ever since he returned to the United Kingdom after teaching English in Saudi Arabia in 2010. The Islamic State has claimed that Masood was one of its soldiers who was carrying out its wishes of launching attacks in Western nations.
Government Intelligence vs. User Privacy
The call made by Rudd for companies to allow intelligence agencies access to encrypted communications will likely be met with resistance by technology companies. The situations are similar to the refusal of Apple to unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack of 2015, claiming that the act would be in violation of the constitution. The FBI was eventually able to unlock the smartphone, not with Apple's help but with a tool created by an undisclosed third-party.
Rudd revealed that she had asked executives from different tech companies to join her for a meeting within the week, with the encryption issue to be the primary focus of discussions. It remains to be seen how the meeting will proceed, but it is very likely that the invited tech companies will not cede their stand on maintaining encryption to protect the privacy of its users, as unwanted government surveillance is one of the major current concerns of consumers.