HOME SECRETARY Amber Rudd has claimed that only terrorists benefit from encryption and that the ‘little people' don't need to have their personal, private WhatsApp messages protected from prying eyes - and if you do, that presumably makes you a likely terrorist as well.
Rudd is on a summer tour of Silicon Valley, lecturing the colonials on the evils of IT security and to complain that they're not doing enough to fight terrorism. She is, apparently, meeting with representatives from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft "and others" (according to the BBC), who'll no doubt nod politely before showing her the door.
Proving that, like the Australian prime minister*, she still doesn't understand how encryption works, she told the BBC: "We support its place in making sure that we have secure facilities in our daily lives."
She continued: "However, there is a problem in terms of the growth of end-to-end encryption. It's a problem for the security services and for police who are not, under the normal way, under properly-warranted paths, able to access that information.
"We want [technology companies] to work more closely with us on end-to-end encryption, so that where there is particular need, where there is targeted need, under warrant, they share more information with us so that we can access it."
In other words, Rudd is hoping to persuade technology companies to cripple the security of their products so that the police, security services, the FSB, the Chinese Ministry of State Security, Belarus's Комитет государственной безопасности (KGB), any one of Recep Erdoğan's many intelligence organisations in Turkey, North Korea's 정찰총국 (that's the Reconnaissance General Bureau, if your Korean is a little rusty), and anyone else with a bit of tech know-how and malicious intent who can peruse your messages, and have you hacked/humiliated/arrested/abducted/shot for WrongThink.
After all, who really needs privacy anyway?
Thankfully, most of those internet and technology companies are well outside of Rudd's jurisdiction and will no doubt be persuaded to give the UK a wide berth if Rudd continues with her campaign.
Jim Killock, executive director of UK digital rights campaign Open Rights Group, was quick off the mark with comment, pointing out that it's not for the home secretary to decide who does (presumably MPs) and doesn't (everyone else) deserve privacy.
"The suggestion that real people do not care about the security of their communications is dangerous and misleading. Some people want privacy from corporations, abusive partners or employers," said Killock.
He added: "Others may be worried about confidential information, or be working in countries with a record of human rights abuses. It is not the home secretary's place to tell the public that they do not need end-to-end encryption."
Killock also warned that Rudd's lack of clarity over exactly what she wants from internet companies risked causing confusion.
"At the moment she sounds like she is asking for the impossible. She must give the public a good idea of the risks she wants to place them under. If WhatsApp turn off or compromise encryption, you can expect criminals to use something else. The people who will suffer are law-abiding citizens who want privacy and security," said Killock.
However, Rudd is not exactly the most effective politician in the western world. As an example of exactly how effectual she is: Rudd was also the vice-chair of the Parliamentary committee on female genital mutilation, a heinous act of GHB against children for which only one prosecution has ever (unsuccessfully) been brought.
According to Wikipedia, privately educated Rudd "read history at Edinburgh University", presumably very slowly with her lips moving the whole time. µ
* Straight-talking, no-nonsense Aussie PM Malcolm Turnbull, when challenged on the contradiction of putting so-called ‘back doors' into security products such as encryption, argued that the laws of mathematics must take second place to the laws of Australia.
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