WhatsApp is facing heat from the UK government for not cooperating with the authorities over the London attack investigation. The bone of contention between the security agencies and the Facebook-owned company is the end-to-end encryption that protects the WhatsApp message sent by attacker Adrian Ajao just three minutes before the attack. WhatsApp has refused to divulge the the conversation details, infuriating the authorities – especially Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who has said that she is prepared to “call time” on Internet companies that give terrorists a “secret place to hide.”
As WhatsApp’s messages are encrypted end-to-end, only the sender and receiver are able to see them, and not even the company can decrypt the messages. Rudd claims that this is “completely unacceptable” and said that it was time for the company to “recognise that they have a responsibility,” and enable a way to be able to read such messages if the case demands it. Ajao sent a WhatsApp message just three minutes before the attack, and authorities believe that this message would be crucial in their investigation. When WhatsApp announced end-to-end encryption last year, security agencies had called it a potential security threat.
A spokesman for WhatsApp told Telegraph, “We are horrified by the attack carried out in London earlier this week and are cooperating with law enforcement as they continue their investigations.” However, WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption prevents even the company from gaining access to the content of the conversation, opening up a new debate in a time where safety and privacy play a pivotal part in these companies’ success.
Rudd suggests that, “You can have a system whereby they can build it so we can have access to it when it is absolutely necessary. We can’t have a situation where terrorists can talk to each other. What I’m saying is the best people who understand the technology to stop it going up in the first place are them. They could have an industry-wide board set up to take care of this. I want to make sure that they do.”
The Telegraph reports that Rudd has summoned representatives from WhatsApp, Facebook, Google, and other online firms for an event on Thursday to discuss the matter.
Rudd essentially is asking of WhatsApp to give the government access to all messages if so desired. While this is beneficial in times like these, it could lead to potential spying by authorities for various non-terrorist related activities as well. In the current era of hacking, where even the CIA used unethical measures to spy on people, the lack of proper privacy tools could seriously hamper the online messaging business.
WhatsApp has come under fire a couple of times last year in Brazil for not co-operating with criminal investigations, and has been banned in the country several times as well. Apple was at loggerheads with the FBI in 2015 and 2016, and did not create a software to bypass iOS security systems to allow the agencies to read the messages of San Bernardino attackers. Google has come under the scanner for not blocking terrorist guidebooks like ‘how to use a car as a weapon’ and ‘a guide on where to stab someone who is wearing a stab-proof vest’.