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UK Home Sec: Give us a snoop-around for WhatApp encryption. Don't worry, we won't go into the cloud

Plus: UK needs those with the right 'hashtags' to stop wrong uploads*

By Richard Chirgwin, 26 Mar 2017

The UK government is once again suggesting encryption has no place in citizens' hands, in the wake of revelations that Westminster attacker Khalid Masood was using WhatsApp shortly before murdering pedestrians with his car, and stabbing a police officer to death.

While she stopped short of threatening a Brazilian-style outright ban on encrypted private messaging, interior minister Amber Rudd complained on BBC Television over the weekend that such applications give terrorists a "place to hide".

UK readers can see the clip on BBC iPlayer, here.

The comments are hardly surprising in the context of a long-running and often toxic debate over government access to encrypted communications.

Saying “there should be no place for terrorists to hide”, Rudd invoked an era where a warrant would let law enforcement “steam open envelopes, or just listen in on phones, when they wanted to find out what people were doing”.

“We need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into encrypted situations like WhatsApp,” she said on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show.

Things became a little confusing when Marr compared the debate in the UK to American law enforcement's long quest to get a back door into iPhones.

Rudd said “If I was talking to Tim Cook, I would say something completely different. I would not say 'open up', we don't want to 'go into the cloud', we don't want to do all sorts of things like that.

“But we do want them to recognise that they have a responsibility to engage with government, to engage with law enforcement agencies, when there is a terrorist situation. We would do it all through the carefully thought through, legally covered arrangements.

“[T]hey cannot get away with saying 'we are a different situation'. They are not.”

The Register doesn't know how Rudd proposes to get what she wants without demanding providers 'open up' something in 'the cloud'. Perhaps we'll know later in the week, after she's met with Facebook et al. ®

*Rudd also spoke to Marr about preventing the upload to the internet of objectionable content, by getting big companies "around the table" to agree to do it. She added: "I know it sounds a bit like we're stepping away from legislation, but we're not. What I'm saying is: The best people, who understand the technology, who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff even being put up, not just taking it down, but stop it getting up in the first place, are going to be them. That's why I'd like to have an industry-wide board set up where they do it themselves."

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