Should messaging services like WhatsApp be forced to break the encryption of users’ messages?

The home secretary has vowed to "call time" on the likes of WhatsApp (Source: Getty)

Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at The University of Buckingham, says Yes.

National security must always trump privacy rights. The European Convention explicitly allows this. It also affirms the right of individuals to security and, to deliver it, governments must be able to read every key terrorist and key criminal communication. No ifs or buts.

WhatsApp’s refusal to decrypt the last text of Khalid Masood (terrorist killer of four during his attack on Westminster) is outrageous, an attack on our human rights and should not be tolerated. The text could allow us to determine whether he was acting entirely alone or, like other “lone wolves” in Berlin and Nice, was part of a conspiracy of some kind.

Amber Rudd’s comments imply that GCHQ has no “backdoor” into WhatsApp and similar messengers. However unlikely this may seem, we are obliged to accept the minister’s word. If US service providers don’t give us access to communications they host, we should retaliate with an immediate ban on their wares.

Danvers Baillieu, chief operating officer at Cognitive Logic, says No.

There is currently no popular objection to the idea that, armed with a proper warrant, our security services should be able to search the most secure home or office – and in those terms it seems reasonable to extend this ability to the online world.

The problem is that we either have secure encryption or we do not – there is no halfway house, because the moment a back door exists, the encryption is no longer secure.

So we need to defend encryption. However, this situation is not sustainable and the home secretary is correct: there cannot be safe spaces for terrorists.

What we need is perfect encryption that can only be cracked by people who are properly authorised. The technology to enable this does not currently exist, but perhaps it is more urgent that effort from the tech sector is put in this direction, instead of towards self-driving cars, voice recognition software or personal fitness trackers.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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