Belfast Telegraph

Security agencies need back doors into encrypted services, says Home Secretary

Encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp should build back doors into their systems so intelligence agencies can read suspected terrorists' messages during investigations, the Home Secretary has said.

Amber Rudd said she supports end-to-end encryption, offered by the likes of WhatsApp, but said security services must be able to eavesdrop on messages when they have a warrant.

It comes amid reports that Westminster terrorist Khalid Masood used WhatsApp seconds before launching Wednesday's attack, but agencies are unable to see what was communicated.

Ms Rudd also insisted the likes of Google, which runs the social video sharing platform YouTube, and smaller sites such as WordPress must realise that they are now publishing - rather than technology - companies and take more responsibility for taking down extreme material.

The Home Secretary left the door open to changing the law if necessary.

But she said she would rather see an industry-wide board doing it independently, as the best people to take action are those who understand the technology and the "necessary hashtags".

On encrypted messaging services, she told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show: "It is completely unacceptable, there should be no place for terrorists to hide.

"We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don't provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.

"It used to be that people would steam-open envelopes or just listen in on phones when they wanted to find out what people were doing, legally, through warrantry.

"But on this situation we need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp."

Asked if she opposed end-to-end encryption on Sky News's Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Ms Rudd said: "End-to-end encryption has a place, cyber security is really important and getting it wrong costs the economy and costs people money.

"So I support end-to-end encryption, it has its place to play.

"But we also need to have a system whereby when the police have an investigation, where the security services have put forward a warrant signed off by the Home Secretary, we can get that information when a terrorist is involved."

She denied what she was describing was incompatible with end-to-end encryption, adding: "You can have a system whereby they can build it so that we can have access to it when it is absolutely necessary."

Ms Rudd said she was calling in a "fairly long list" of relevant organisations for a meeting on the issue on Thursday, including social media platforms.

"I would rather get a situation where we get all these people around the table agreeing to do it," she told Marr.

"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 stopping it being put up in the first place - are going to be them."

Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency, backed Ms Rudd's call for messaging services to build back doors into end-to-end encryption.

Its director Rob Wainwright told BBC Sunday Politics: "There is no doubt that encryption, encrypted communications are becoming a more and more prominent feature in the way that terrorists communicate, more and more of a problem therefore, a real challenge for investigators.

"And at the heart of this is a stark inconsistency between the ability of the police to lawfully intercept telephone calls but not when those messages are exchanged by a social media messaging board for example.

"That's an inconsistency in society, it surely is, and we have to find a solution through the appropriate legislation, through perhaps the technology companies and law enforcement working maybe in a slightly more constructive way."

Commons Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said the Government should consider German-style laws to fine companies that fail to remove extreme material, although Ms Rudd distanced herself from the idea.

Ms Cooper told Sky News's Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "I think we're going to have to have much more pressure on them to act because I know that Amber Rudd wants to have another summit with them and another meeting with them. I'm sure that's very good.

"But David Cameron had lots and lots of meetings with them that kind of went around these issues again and again.

"I think they have to act."

Former Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Lord Paddick branded Ms Rudd's proposals "draconian" and said they would not have saved lives in Wednesday's attack.

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman said: "These terrorists want to destroy our freedoms and undermine our democratic society.

"By implementing draconian laws that limit our civil liberties, we would be playing into their hands.

"My understanding is there are ways security services could view the content of suspected terrorists' encrypted messages and establish who they are communicating with.

"Having the power to read everyone's text messages is neither a proportionate nor an effective response.

"The real question is, could lives have been saved in London last week if end-to-end encryption had been banned?

"All the evidence suggests that the answer is no."

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