Ex-Mi5 chief warns against battling encrypted messaging apps

Encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp caught quite a lot of flack in the wake of the recent terror attacks in the UK, but now Ex-Mi5 chief Jonathan Evans has come out in defence of the secure communication tools. 

It’s easy to see why the government would be against the use of encryption, after all there is a long tradition of legal ‘wiretapping’ that has been done to gather information on suspected criminals. As the name suggests, this was originally done by attaching a device to the wire that the telephonic communication was passing through, in order to intercept conversations. 

As time has passed, technology moved on and surveillance has adapted to meet new requirements. Encrypted messaging poses an interesting problem in that there is no easy way to allow the government to have a ‘back door’ into an encrypted message without also risking anyone else having access, and that includes those with nefarious means. 

Obviously when a terrorist wants to plan an atrocity, having the ability to hide their messages causes a major problem for the security agencies that are trying to stop them. But terrorists are by no means the only users of this technology, and having a totally secure messaging platform adds security for those wanting to use it.

Secure operation

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Lord Evans said: “I’m not personally one of those who thinks we should weaken encryption because I think there is a parallel issue, which is cybersecurity more broadly.

“While understandably there is a very acute concern about counter-terrorism, it is not the only threat that we face. The way in which cyberspace is being used by criminals and by governments is a potential threat to the UK’s interests more widely.

“It’s very important that we should be seen and be a country in which people can operate securely – that’s important for our commercial interests as well as our security interests, so encryption in that context is very positive.”

Whether this advice will be heeded is yet to be seen, and given the powers that the government is provided by the so-called ‘snooper’s charter’, the UK could still see the security of encryption weakened. 

It may end up following in the footsteps of Australia, where Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull famously stated “The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia,” in relation to its policies regarding encryption apps.

For now, security like WhatsApp's encryption is here to stay, but the arguments against it, and the people making them, aren't going away anytime soon. 

Via The Guardian

Andrew London

Andrew London is a writer at Velocity Partners. Prior to Velocity Partners, he was a staff writer at Future plc.