Major General Jonathan Shaw, the ex-cyber security chief has accused the government of trying to use the Westminster attacks to grab more snooping powers.
With details emerging that the Westminster attacker used WhatsApp and Telegram apps on his phone to communicate before going on the rampage, a war of words has broken out between the establishment and the cyber security industry over what the right course of action is. These apps are end-to-end encrypted so nobody other than the receiver and sender can read them.
While Home Secretary Amber Rudd feels that tech giants need to, in effect, build back doors into their software so law enforcement officials can get in at times of crisis, the industry does not echo her thoughts.
Calling it a ‘very fluid situation’, Major General Shaw told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ‘If you crack this nut, you simply move the case on to another level. Terrorists will use different methods – they will use other means of communicating. They will use different codes, hidden languages – private languages… the problem will mutate and move on.’
Apple CEO Tim Cook has, in the past said it is ‘wrong’ for governments to ask the tech giant to build back doors and were supported by others like Facebook who said one of its ‘core beliefs’ was the protection of private communication.
There’s another attack on our civil liberties that we see heating up every day – it’s the battle over encryption. Some in Washington are hoping to undermine the ability of ordinary citizens to encrypt their data.
We think this is incredibly dangerous. We’ve been offering encryption tools in our products for years, and we’re going to stay on that path. We think it’s a critical feature for our customers who want to keep their data secure. For years we’ve offered encryption services like iMessage and FaceTime because we believe the contents of your text messages and your video chats is none of our business.
‘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 warranty. But on this situation we need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp,’ added Rudd.
While debate rages one, on what the right course of action would be, Shaw had a sobering thought to add to it: ‘There’s a debate in Parliament about the whole Snooper’s Charter and the rights of the state and I think what they are trying to do is use this moment to nudge the debate more in their line. We are in real trouble if we apply blunt weapons to this. Absolutist solutions.”