Privacy v. Security Battle Heats Up

Social media and encrypted instant messaging platforms are once again facing renewed calls for supporting backdoors in the wake of London terror attack on March 22. Reason? The lone perpetrator, Khalid Masood, is believed to have used WhatsApp messaging service minutes before he carried out the terrorist rampage on Westminster Bridge, sending a personal message to an unknown person, according to USA Today.

"We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don't provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other," said British Home Secretary Amber Rudd. "[W]e need to make sure that our intelligence services have the ability to get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp," she further added.

While this once again brings up the tricky issue of balancing user privacy and security, it's a known fact that hackers and law enforcement agencies have resorted to backdoors and targeted attacks against devices by exploiting security flaws in the software (like Android, iOS, Windows, macOS etc.) to take control of people's smartphones, tablets and computers. An end-to-end encrypted service like WhatsApp alone can only secure the messages being transmitted and cannot shield a user from potential vulnerabilities within the device.

Although technology companies should rightfully assist intelligence agencies with specific investigations (such as this one), compelling them to install backdoors to allow access to encrypted communications - as a solution to what's widely known as the Going Dark problem - is akin to locking your doors and leaving the keys under the doormat. It not only weakens the existing security infrastructure, but also puts the privacy and safety of millions of law-abiding citizens at risk.