Amber Rudd Refuses to Allow the Facts to Interfere with a Rant

I must enter an immediate caveat: I am baffled by modern technology. I listen with enormous admiration to my friends, some of them even as old as I am, as they speak with terrifying confidence about the extraordinary things they can do with the internet and with things which they call “apps”. But, long ago, I accepted that all that sort of thing was beyond me. I muddle along reasonably happily, but I know there is an amazing new world out there which will for ever be closed to me.

Nevertheless, I have made a real effort to understand what it is that has made our Home Secretary incandescent with rage about one of those apps. Let me first try to set out the facts (I may have got them all wrong but I don’t think I have).

There is a piece of software known as What’s App. It enables its users to send messages over the internet to their pals which can’t be intercepted by anyone else, not by crooks, not by the state and not even by the company (I think it may be Facebook) which created the device. On the whole, it sounds like rather a good thing. In these days when most communications over the internet can be hacked by criminals it strikes me that we should be pleased there is now a way of sending messages which is safe.

Here I have to get technical. What’s App is secure because, I think this is right, it encrypts all messages when they are sent and only the recipients’ machines (things like portable telephones and computers) can decrypt them. Criminals can’t decrypt them. GCHQ can’t decrypt them. Facebook technicians themselves can’t decrypt them.

Bad people can, of course, use What’s App to send messages to each other. Rather in the way that it is possible to whisper (perhaps with hand held over mouth like those silly doubles tennis players to stop lip readers from seeing what is being said), criminals, even terrorists, can use What’s App to plot dastardly crimes without anyone else knowing what they are saying.

The final fact in this litany relates to the recent Westminster atrocity. The terrorist apparently sent a message, using What’s App, to someone moments before he embarked on his killing spree. Entirely understandably, the police would like to know to whom the message was sent and what it said. What’s App, however, is unable to provide that information, for reasons set out above.

Now, over to the Home Secretary. She is furious. She is telling us all that What’s App is refusing to reveal vital information to the police about an appalling act of terrorism. That is simply not true. What’s App can’t provide the information because it can’t decrypt the message sent by the terrorist. What this dishonest politician really wants is for the Facebook technicians to tweak What’s App so that it is no longer secure. She wants them to create something called a “back door” to the device and to hand the key to that door to the state. That won’t, of course, enable the police to see the message sent by the Westminster terrorist. But it will enable the state (and lots of criminals) to see future What’s App messages.

I assume that Ms Rudd’s decision to ignore the facts, and pretend that What’s App knows what was in the message and to whom it was sent but is refusing to reveal those facts, was made because she knows that most of us rather like the idea of having a secure system for sending messages. If she told the truth, if she said all she really wants is to make What’s App an insecure method for sending messages, so that the state (and masses of criminals) could read them all, she might not be terribly popular. Better, by far, to portray Facebook as an accomplice to murder.

Of course, I may have misunderstood all that technical stuff. But I don’t think I have. I hate to say it, but I am forced to the conclusion that Ms Rudd is not a very good person.

Charles

 

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12 thoughts on “Amber Rudd Refuses to Allow the Facts to Interfere with a Rant

  1. Not sure I agree with you, Charles. Given we live in a democracy and not a dictatorship, I can’t think of any message I would want to send that I would mind M15 reading. But if I were a terrorist or a paedophile, I’d be quite keen to keep my correspondence private. Having a ‘back door’ for police access might make ordinary people safer. Re criminals hacking such messages, we manage okay with emails being relatively insecure.

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    • I would object to the state reading ANY of my private messages. George Orwell wrote his novel 1984 intending that people would be repulsed in horror at pervasive state surveillance. And so they were then. But governments looked at the idea of telescreens recording all our private words and actions and decided that would be an excellent idea and have been introducing pervasive surveillance incrementally ever since. And now a cowardly, frightened and supine population are now begging to have what scant freedoms we have remaining taken away.

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      • But help, if I may call you that, imagine the manpower it would take to read even a tiny proportion of all the communications whizzing about. For that reason alone, surveillance is necessarily focused on potential baddies. And if while researching for my novels I trip an SIS wire, I really don’t mind their poking around in my emails to discover I am mostly harmless.

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        • Yes, quite, that was a feature of Orwell’s telescreens: the telescreens were switched on all the time but the citizens never knew when or whether they were being currently surveilled by unseen Minilove operators. The randomness was a feature that created uncertainty and fear in the subjects.

          Now you are touting this as a virtue of our modern system.

          You seem to have an exaggerated belief in the competence and virtues of our SIS, which indicates to me that you have never examined their actual performance.

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    • Many will agree with you. My own view is different. Making What’s App insecure will not harm the terrorists. They will just use other software. The losers will be entirely innocent people who just like the idea of being able to communicate privately (and such people are not all paedophiles – whatever the tabloids tell you)

      Charles

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  2. Hello Charles,
    for someone who is a self confessed technophobe you sum up the situation extremely well! In a nutshell that is what it is about.
    Remember the furore a while ago with Apple and the FBI? They too wanted Apple to decrypt some criminals messages and made a huge song and dance about it, in the end it transpired that Apple were trying ,but they were just unable to! I think the authorities like to make a lot of noise to make us feel that something is being done , and they are working hard at it!!
    I use WhatsApp to send and receive photos from my daughter and from my sister who is in India. These are free, whereas my service provider charges £1.50 for every photo message! I have no objection MI5 or the police accessing my account. Though I do want water tight security when am using my credit card or banking on line. It is fine balance and obviously they have not yet got it right.
    Hope all is well with you.

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  3. Gosh, friend xantilor, I:
    1/ am impressed that u R a riter an’ have rit a book an’ stuff and
    2/ stand in awe of the depth of research that you claim and
    3/ am so convinced by your closely reasoned conclusions that I too am eager to give up every last scrap of my privacy to the state. What could go wrong?*

    *(see 20th century).

    Like

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