The UK government would be ‘wasting its time and money’ if it attempted to ban end-to-end encryption from services such as WhatsApp, according to many industry experts. In fact, it has emerged that legislation is already in place that allows the government to enforce encryption removal, however experts believe that the probability of losing a lengthy, and costly, court battle is preventing the government from acting.
Messaging service WhatsApp was used for terrorists to communicate in the days and weeks before last week’s terror attack at Westminster, it has been revealed. Several MPs have since called on organisations like WhatsApp – owned by Facebook – to pull down their end-to-end encryption. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “Organisations like WhatsApp have a duty of care to ensure that they don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.”
She also hinted at new legislation to remove encryption from messaging services, despite the Investigatory Powers Act, passed in 2016, already granting the government this power. Alec Muffett, technical advisor for the Open Rights Group (who previously worked at Facebook), claims that enforcing the existing legislation will ‘never’ work for the government.
“They may buy some time forcing people to pay lip-service to it,” he said. “Eventually they will lose the battle because they will never coerce the global open-source community to comply. Government time and money would be better spent elsewhere – pursuing criminals through ‘human’ means and by building upon metadata – than in attempting to combat ‘secure communication across the internet’ as an abstract entity.”
He added: “It would be an ugly battle, and (win or lose) it would be self-defeating. People would flee a less secure, less competitive Facebook and move to other platforms – ones with less cordial government relationships, or with no corporate presence at all.”
Internet security firms have slammed the suggestion of removing end-to-end encryption. Avast security expert Tony Anscombe said the encryption is the ‘best defence’ against data misuse and is the ‘backbone of democracy.
“Banning encryption in order to get to the communications of a select few opens the door to the communications of many, and renders us all less secure and our lives less private,” he said.
“If you build a backdoor, it’s there for everybody to access. And if you store that data you collect, even in encrypted form, how secure is it? All these data breaches we hear about show our privacy is regularly being breached by hackers, so the action suggested by the home secretary would only open us all up to further invasions of privacy.”