As the UK government seeks access to WhatsApp data, a whole new controversy around privacy, security and encryption has risen.
Privacy advocates are vehemently opposing UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd's call for security services to have access to encrypted messaging services such as WhatsApp so that terrorists have no place to hide.
UK Government Wants Access To WhatsApp
News of the attack in London last week traveled worldwide and Khalid Masood, the British man behind it, is believed to have used WhatsApp right before the murders. Four people lost their lives and Rudd said that terrorists like Masood must have nowhere to hide.
Authorities believe that Masood used WhatsApp just two minutes before the attack, so they want to know what the perpetrator communicated. Rudd said that police need to ensure that WhatsApp and other such messaging apps don't serve as a secret venue for terrorists to communicate with each other and plan their attacks.
WhatsApp End-To-End Encryption
WhatsApp has more than 1 billion users worldwide and it ensures that users' conversations remain secure and private through end-to-end encryption. This essentially means that not even WhatsApp itself has access to users' conversations, only the participants do.
The purpose of end-to-end encryption is to protect users against hackers, cybercriminals, oppressive regimes, and any other parties that might want to snoop where they shouldn't be snooping. With end-to-end encryption, even if WhatsApp wanted to show authorities what Masood did on the platform, it can't.
Authorities know what end-to-end encryption entails, so they want a backdoor baked into the service to give them access to the conversations of perpetrators such as Masood.
The Dangers Of Backdoors And Security Loopholes
On the other hand, privacy advocates argue that creating a backdoor for authorities would also mean that hackers and cybercriminals would be able to gain access to users' private conversations, thus severely damaging security.
The same questions and issues arose back in 2015, when the U.S. government tried to force Apple to decrypt iPhones for authorities or create a backdoor to help in investigations.
Both in Apple's case and now with WhatsApp, privacy advocates argued that it would be a terrible idea to create security loopholes that would allow authorities to bypass encrypted services. Once a security loophole is created, even if it's meant only for authorities and intelligence agencies, security is breached. Hackers and other parties could exploit the same loophole to gain access and everything could be compromised.
While WhatsApp and other technology companies want to help authorities and intelligence agencies with investigations into terrorist activity or other crimes, they don't want to compromise users' privacy and security and creating backdoors would mean just that.
Encryption doesn't just protect private conversations, but also ensures that people can handle their banking and shopping online safely and securely. Compromising encryption would threaten far more than just a few messages exchanged on a platform such as WhatsApp.
Several other messaging services protect users' privacy through encryption, including Signal, Telegram, Wickr, and others.
"These terrorists want to destroy our freedoms and undermine our democratic society," points out Brian Paddick, the spokesman for the Liberal Democrat home affairs. "By implementing draconian laws that limit our civil liberties, we would be playing into their hands."