UK government calls on tech firms to stop providing “a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other”

The UK home secretary, Amber Rudd has said it is “completely unacceptable” that providers of end-to-end encryption, like Apple and the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, “provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other”.

Rudd’s comments come after Khalid Masood used WhatsApp minutes before killing four people in Westminster last Wednesday.

It is understood that the intelligence services are still unable to see the messages Masood sent or received.

The home secretary told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show:  “We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.

“It used to be that people would steam open envelopes or listen in on phones if they wanted to see what people were doing, legally through warrants, but in this situation we need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp.”

Rudd also took exception to comments Apple CEO Tim Cooks made last year that if a backdoor or “master key” was created “the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices”

“If I was talking to Tim Cook I would say to him this is something completely different. We’re not saying open up, we don’t want to go into the cloud, we don’t want to do all sorts of things like that, but we do want them to recognise they have a responsibility to engage with government, to engage with law enforcement agencies when there is a terrorist situation,” said Rudd. “We would do it all through the carefully thought through, legally covered arrangements, but they cannot away with saying we are a different situation. They are not.”

Cook’s comments were made in relation to the case of the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack.

In that case the FBI wanted Apple to help them access the encrypted messages of gunman Syed Rizwan Farook.

Apple declined saying what the FBI was asking ignored “the basics of digital security”, but the FBI was able to gain access to the phone without needing Apple’s intervention.

Now, Rudd appears ready to have this debate again with Apple, as well as other providers of end-to-end encryption, and has invited several unnamed companies to speak with her on the subject.

“I would ask Tim Cook to think again about other ways of finding out, of helping us work out how we can get into the situations like WhatsApp on the Apple phone,” said Rudd. “It’s not necessarily Apple itself, sometimes its WhatsApp or the other situations on it, which is why I’m calling in a lot of the organisations who are relevant to that this week to ask them to work with us to deliver the answer. It’s not about them standing back from us, this is a national problem.”

Featured image courtesy of Twocoms / Image courtesy of Marco Prati /

Despite Rudd and the UK government’s determination to force technology firms to build backdoors into their software, there are some figures in British politics who aren’t sure if this is a necessary step.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said authorities already had “huge powers”, and there had to be a balance between the “right to know” and “the right to privacy”.

Major General Jonathan Shaw, formerly in charge of cyber security at the MOD, told the Today programme that getting access to WhatsApp and other messaging service wouldn’t necessarily end the problem.

“The trouble is if you crack this nut you simple move the case onto another level. Terrorists will use different methods; they will use other means of communicating; they’ll use different codes; they’ll use hidden languages and private languages,” said Shaw. “I don’t think that necessarily if you have total transparency like this that you will crack the problem. The problem will mutate and move on.”

Shaw also questioned whether the fact that this debate was being led by politicians rather than the security services meant that the motive was political rather than ideological. Although, he did accept that the intelligence agencies would want more access if given an option.

“I think there is a lot of politics at play here. There’s a debate in parliament about the whole snoopers’ charter and the right of the state, and I think what they’re trying to do is use this moment to nudge the debate more in their line,” said Shaw.

Amnesty International warns “us vs them” rhetoric driving global rollback of human rights

Amnesty International has warned that an increasingly divisive “us vs them” politics is driving a rollback in global human rights in a damning report published today.

The report, entitled The State of the World’s Human Rights, covers 159 countries and warns that the growing “politics of demonization” in the US, Europe and some other parts of the world is directly influencing a decline in worldwide human rights that will continue unless action is taken.

“Divisive fear-mongering has become a dangerous force in world affairs,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Whether it is Trump, Orban, Erdoğan or Duterte, more and more politicians calling themselves anti-establishment are wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanises entire groups of people.

“Today’s politics of demonisation shamelessly peddles a dangerous idea that some people are less human than others, stripping away the humanity of entire groups of people. This threatens to unleash the darkest aspects of human nature.”

US President Donald Trump was one of the politicians accused of driving the “politics of demonisation”. Images are screenshots from a video, below, released by Amnesty International to accompany the report

The report argues that that this rhetoric directly influenced the behaviour of governments in 2016, enabling governments over the past year to justify mass surveillance and torture; ignore war crimes; undermine rights to asylum; limit freedom of expression; murder alleged drug users and increase “draconian” police powers.

It highlights the shift in acceptable political narratives as a driving force for these actions.

“In 2016, these most toxic forms of dehumanization became a dominant force in mainstream global politics,” added Shetty. “The limits of what is acceptable have shifted. Politicians are shamelessly and actively legitimizing all sorts of hateful rhetoric and policies based on people’s identity: misogyny, racism and homophobia.”

The report warns, however, that the rise in rhetoric has also led to a lack of human rights leadership at a global level, allowing infringement on human rights in other countries to go unchecked.

“With world leaders lacking political will to put pressure on other states violating human rights, basic principles from accountability for mass atrocities to the right to asylum are at stake,” said Shetty.

War crimes were committed in at least 23 countries last year, with human rights crises occurring in countries including Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Central America, Central African Republic, Burundi, Iraq, South Sudan and Sudan. In 22 countries, people were killed while peacefully protecting human rights.

“Even states that once claimed to champion rights abroad are now too busy rolling back human rights at home to hold others to account,” he added. “The more countries backtrack on fundamental human rights commitments, the more we risk a domino effect of leaders emboldened to knock back established human rights protections.”

2017, then, does not look promising in terms of human rights.

“The international community has already responded with deafening silence after countless atrocities in 2016: a live stream of horror from Aleppo, thousands of people killed by the police in the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’, use of chemical weapons and hundreds of villages burned in Darfur,” said Shetty. “The big question in 2017 will be how far the world lets atrocities go before doing something about them.”

With governments unwilling to take action, and this “us vs them” narrative continuing to grow, people cannot rely on governments to defend human rights, and will need to take matters into our own hands.

“We cannot passively rely on governments to stand up for human rights, we the people have to take action,” he said.

“Every person must ask their government to use whatever power and influence they have to call out human rights abusers, In dark times, individuals have made a difference when they took a stand, be they civil rights activists in the USA, anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, or women’s rights and LGBTI movements around the world. We must all rise to that challenge now.”

Without action, other groups will be the scapegoats of the future, he warned.

“The first target has been refugees and, if this continues in 2017, others will be in the cross-hairs. The reverberations will lead to more attacks on the basis of race, gender, nationality and religion,” said Shetty. “When we cease to see each other as human beings with the same rights, we move closer to the abyss.”