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UK Using Terror Attack To Pry Its Way Into Citizens’ Cell Phones

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor
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The British government is set to meet with representatives of American technology companies Thursday over renewed concerns of encrypted communications after the London terrorist allegedly used WhatsApp minutes before the attack.

Encryption is the process of transforming data into complex codes to automatically lock the information and essentially obstruct unauthorized access. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is one of the premier messaging platforms that employs encryption capabilities.

Amber Rudd, Britain’s home secretary, said Sunday that the intelligence agencies in the country should have access to messages on WhatsApp even if they are encrypted because evildoers use the technology to conceal their communications, particularly the logistics and planning of terrorist operations. (RELATED: Orlando Nightclub Victim Families Sue Facebook, Twitter, Google For Providing ‘Material Support’ To ISIS)

“I am going to appeal to making sure that they realize that these terrorists are using their websites for their gain and I believe we can get them to set up an industry board [to proactively and aggressively deal with the problem],” Rudd said on Sky News. “But I am not going to stop at that … I believe that they are more likely to have the answers, they’re the ones who put together the platforms, they’re the ones who have a lot of expertise in-house. I’d like them to come up with the solutions because this is a national problem and a global problem. They should be part of the solution.” (RELATED: Twitter Claims To Have Shut Down 235,000 Accounts Connected To Terrorism In Past 6 Months)

After being specifically asked about WhatsApp and if it’s time to “end end-to-end encryption,” Rudd stressed that she supports such functionality, and that it “has a place” since cybersecurity is so important to critical areas of society like the economy.

But she also went to say that there must be some sort of “system” where law enforcement can acquire encrypted communications with a warrant.

“That’s incompatible with end-to-end encryption,” the news anchor said.

“No it’s not. It’s not incompatible. You can have a system whereby they can build it so we can have access to it when it is absolutely necessary,” Rudd asserted, while also reiterating that she supports encryption.

As the news anchor points out, Rudd wants to have a “backdoor” that she purports would only allow access to law enforcement and nobody else, including hackers.

Rudd’s comments come after Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old Briton, drove a car into several people on Westminster Bridge, and then stabbed a police officer to death near parliament. More than 40 people were injured, and at least four people were killed, due to the act of terrorism.

Her proposal reverberates a debate that has transpired many times before, including in the U.S. and Turkey.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was pressured by FBI Director James Comey to help law enforcement officials gain access to the data on one of the perpetrator’s iPhones while dealing with the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings.

Cook argued in a letter to customers that creating software for a back door is far “too dangerous to create,” and extremely counterproductive. (RELATED: Americans Split On If Police Should Be Able To Force You To Unlock Your Phones)

“The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor,” Cook wrote in February of 2016. “And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.”

Cook said building a backdoor ignores the basics of digital security, which means Rudd will be hard-pressed in convincing tech companies to change a technology that they say is impossible to alter without inherently compromising everything. (RELATED: Turkey Is Reportedly Asking Apple’s Help In Unlocking iPhone Of Russian Ambassador’s Killer)

“It is absurd to have a situation where you can have terrorists talking to each other on a formal platform and you can’t have a situation where warranted information is needed, perhaps to stop attacks like the one we saw last week, and it can’t be accessed. I need to find a solution with them to that,” Rudd continued.

Tech companies, as well as privacy rights groups, say the technical feasibility of this is highly dubious, if not downright impossible. Facebook, Google, Mozilla, Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, and WhatsApp all came out in support of Apple during the back-and-forth between Comey and the iPhone manufacturer, echoing the same exact sentiment: building a backdoor, or as Cook put it, the “software equivalent of cancer,” is not an option.

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