It sounds like messaging app WhatsApp isn’t backing down on its commitment to encryption.
According to a report from Sky News, the British government asked the Facebook-owned messaging app to build a way to give it access to encrypted messages, but it refused.
Encryption is a frequent hot topic in discussions around terrorism and extremism in the UK, America, and elsewhere in the world.
Apps like WhatsApp use end-to-end encryption, meaning messages sent on the platform are encoded in such a way that they can’t be intercepted and read by anyone other than the intended target – and that includes the company itself or the authorities.
This has caused consternation for some in law enforcement, who fear that vital evidence is “going dark” as terrorists and other criminals adopt encryption to communicate online. But security advocates and technologists counter that the alternative – building “backdoors” into software – is worse, because it weakens everyone’s security, leaving them more vulnerable to hackers and other threats. As one common saying goes: “You can’t have a backdoor that’s only for the good guys.”
WhatsApp is a poster child for encryption. It switched on end-to-end encryption in 2016, and its leadership has spoken publicly about the dangers of introducing backdoors into security products. “Some of your most personal moments are shared with WhatsApp, which is why we built end-to-end encryption into the latest versions of our app,” its website says. “When end-to-end encrypted, your messages, photos, videos, voice messages, documents, and calls are secured from falling into the wrong hands.”
Britain has seen deadly terror attacks this year in Westminster and Manchester, and the government has publicly pressured tech companies to do more to tackle extremism.
In August, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd called on messaging apps like WhatsApp to ditch end-to-end encryption, arguing that it aids terrorism. In a newspaper column, she wrote that “real people” did not need the feature and “prefer ease of use and a multitude of features.”
And in September, the UK terror watchdog suggested that tech giants verify users’ identities before letting them use encryption.
According to Sky News’ report, the government asked WhatsApp to give it a way to view messages “this summer,” but was denied. it’s not clear what the government’s response was.
WhatsApp did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.