Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Does David Cameron Really Want To Ban WhatsApp?

The Debrief: He says it's to protect us from terrorists, but it’s probably going to affect a lot more people than those horrible few...

UPDATE: Just a reminder, the Draft Communications Data Bill, otherwise known as 'The Snoopers' Charter', could go through Parliament in a matter of weeks, as Home Secretary Theresa May pushes for it to be reconsidered (the Lib Dems blocked it under the Coalition). This means that, a law banning WhatsApp, Snapchat and iMessage could come into action by 2016.

David Cameron wants to ban encryption messaging in order to combat terrorism. Which makes sense if you think that encryption messaging is something that only nerdy hackers do from the spare room of their mum's house. However, WhatsApp, iMessage, Snapchat and Skype are all sent using encryption.

See, when you send a text, it’s sent in a way that your messages can potentially be intercepted by the powers that be, because they’re sent over phone signal. However, iMessage, Skype, Snapchat and WhatsApp – as well as many other apps, not that Cameron mentioned any at all in his speech – use internet connections to send and are encrypted. Which means that what you say on there cannot be intercepted by the government. Though it’s a small minority of people who turn out to be terrorists, Cameron said in a press conference reported by the BBC he wants to crack down on the types of communication they are using to speak with each other:

‘In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which, even in extremists... That we cannot read? No, we must not. The first duty of any government is to keep our country and our people safe.’

But how many civil liberties would we have to give up? There’s no news yet on how data encryption law would shape up, but the comments follow the shootings in Paris last week, and so it’s got us to thinking, what is free speech these days? Obviously, we want to be safe, but we doubt WhatsApp or Skype or iMessage will adapt their infrastructure to accommodate British laws… what if we have to give up our day-to-day way of chatting to mates (and sending really annoying group messages via WhatsApp) in the name of freedom?

Meanwhile, over in America, Obama’s just announced plans for laws that will give Americans a way of controlling who gets to see their online data a bit better. So maybe things have to get worse before they get better.

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Tags: Tech, Pure Politics, David Cameron