Are WhatsApp messages encrypted? Yes, at least for now. However, that might change very soon, as a senior U.K. official is demanding that WhatsApp give police access to the Facebook-owned company’s messages following a London terrorist attack last Wednesday.
— DigiMM (@digimoneymarket) March 27, 2017
Home Secretary Amber Rudd wants intelligence services to have access to WhatsApp encrypted messaging services to help investigate the Westminster terrorist attack, which killed four people, as well as to prevent future terrorist acts, according to the BBC.
The suspected terrorist Khalid Masood’s phone is believed to have been connected to WhatsApp two minutes before Wednesday’s terrorist attack. While police suspect that he might have used the phone to carry out the attack, they cannot confirm if anything related to the attack was communicated via the messaging app.
That’s the answer to the question “are WhatsApp messages encrypted?” They are. All messages communicated via WhatsApp have end-to-end encryption: they cannot be read by anyone, including police and even WhatsApp itself, if intercepted.
But Rudd says she would be meeting with technology firms this week to give intelligence services access to WhatsApp encrypted messages. While it’s unclear if Rudd could succeed in decrypting WhatsApp messages, she told BBC One‘s Andrew Marr Show that there must be “no place for terrorists to hide.”
“It is completely unacceptable, there should be no place for terrorists to hide.”
— Left Foot Forward (@LeftFootFwd) March 27, 2017
While many users on social media who use WhatsApp as their primary means of communication, cannot but wonder whether WhatsApp messages are encrypted, Rudd believes that WhatsApp and other similar communication apps may be serving as “a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.”
“It used to be that people would steam open envelopes or just listen in on phones when they wanted to find out what people were doing, legally, through warranty.”
However, Rudd is questioning whether WhatsApp messages being encrypted is the right thing at the time when there’s a heightened risk of terrorist attacks in the U.K. and around the world.
While Rudd argues that the encrypted WhatsApp, which boasts more than a billion users around the world, is preventing intelligence services from investigating incidents involving terrorism, a spokesperson for the messaging app said the company was “horrified at the attack,” but assured that it was cooperating with police.
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But not all influential U.K. politicians think decrypting WhatsApp private communications between its users would be the right decision. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn recently said that intelligence services already had “huge powers,” adding that there should be a fine line between the “right to know” and “the right to privacy.”
WhatsApp appears to be adamant about protecting private communications between it users, as it has previously said that encrypting WhatsApp messages is one of its “core beliefs.”
The Home Secretary, however, could force WhatsApp and other messaging apps that use encryption of messages to soften their policies and not block police from doing their job when investigating terrorism.
Rudd is set to hold a series of meetings with several tech firms on Thursday and is expected to ask them to tackle the issue of terrorism-related content in their apps and services.
— Al Jazeera News (@AJENews) March 27, 2017
To put at ease those still wondering whether WhatsApp messages are encrypted, WhatsApp is using the Signal Protocol designed by Open Whisper Systems, which encrypts not only end-to-end messages but also voice and video calls between users, according to PC World.
The software was released after the March 31, 2016, update two years after WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook in 2014. The police’s struggle to access WhatsApp private messages is an echo of a scandalous dispute between Apple and the FBI last year, when Apple refused to unlock the iPhone that was used by a San Bernardino terrorist.
[Featured Image by Carl Court/Getty Images]