The UK government has made no secret of its dislike of encrypted messaging tools, and it has made frequent reference to the problems WhatsApp causes it with regard to investigations into terrorism. Calls have been made by the government to force companies to allow access to encrypted content when asked.
In the wake of Theresa May’s “more needs to be done about extremist content” speech, it has emerged that WhatsApp refused to add a backdoor that would allow the government and law enforcement agencies to access private conversations.
Sky News reports anonymous sources as saying that during the summer the government told WhatsApp to devise a way that would enable it to access encrypted messages. While WhatsApp already complies with government requests to provide meta data such as the name of an account holder, associated email address, and IP addresses used, it does not — and, indeed, due to lack of access itself, cannot — provide access to, or the content of encrypted messages.
Sky News says that Facebook-owned WhatsApp was unwilling to do more to help the government. Its source said:
It is crucially important that we can access their communications — and when we can’t, it can provide a black hole for investigators.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is pleased to see that WhatsApp is refusing to play ball:
What you’re seeing here is evidence of WhatsApp pushing hard against giving access. I think they have to be commended for actually pushing back against this kind of request.
Their impenetrability is the very reason encrypted messaging tools like WhatsApp and Telegram have proved so popular with those involved in the organizing of terrorist events. Privacy and security supporters have pointed out time and time again that any move by the government to weaken encryption or introduce backdoors will lessen security for everyone — and that’s not a compromise technology companies are willing to make.