UK Deems Inability To Read WhatsApp Messages 'Unacceptable'

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The United Kingdom Home Secretary Amber Rudd said on Sunday that the government's inability to access messages sent between WhatsApp users is "completely unacceptable," calling for legislators, authorities, and intelligence agencies to either pressure the Facebook-owned service into developing a backdoor into its encrypted instant messaging app or making one themselves. In an interview with BCC, Rudd talked about the aftermath of a terrorist attack in London on March 22 when five people including one police officer and the attacker died and at least 50 were left injured in front of the two Houses of Parliament. The attack was already condemned by the general public and British politicians and Rudd mimicked that sentiment but also went one step further by saying that authorities need to be certain that companies like WhatsApp aren't allowing terrorists to secretly communicate and coordinate attacks with little fear of being discovered.

During her Sunday appearance on Andrew Marr Show, Rudd called for the government to make sure intelligence services have all possible tools for fighting terrorism at their disposal, including the ability to probe conversations conducted over encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp. Numerous privacy advocacy and civil liberty groups, as well as opposing politicians criticized Rudd's comments, stating that they not only show a key lack of technological understanding but also indicate that the UK Home Secretary is looking to use the latest London terrorist attack as means to promote her own agenda and the enactment of disproportionate surveillance measures. While it's unlikely that Rudd's comments will actually result in new legislation forcing WhatsApp to provide the British government with access to messages, the entire ordeal is relatively similar to the massive privacy debate in the United States that was prompted by the San Bernardino attack in late 2015.

Even if the UK government decides to follow Rudd's advice, it's currently unclear how it would enforce legislation mandating backdoor access to WhatsApp and other encrypted messaging apps. Regardless, an update on the situation is bound to follow shortly as Rudd is scheduled to meet with WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook on Thursday, March 30. Whatever happens during the upcoming meeting, it's unlikely the two firms will be able to fulfill Rudd's proposal, especially since they themselves can't access the contents of encrypted messages sent by their users.

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