The home secretary has claimed that “real people” don’t care about encryption in a controversial column.
Writing in the Telegraph, Amber Rudd said they “prefer ease of use and a multitude of features” to unbreakable security.
She asks: “Who uses WhatsApp because it is end-to-end encrypted, rather than because it is an incredibly user-friendly and cheap way of staying in touch with friends and family?”
But critics have hit back, saying that many “real people” rely on encryption to stay safe.
“The suggestion that real people do not care about the security of their communications is dangerous and misleading,” said Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group.
“Some people want privacy from corporations, abusive partners or employers. Others may be worried about confidential information, or be working in countries with a record of human rights abuses.”
The article has also drawn criticism for prompting confusion about what the government is hoping to achieve.
“Amber Rudd must be absolutely clear on what co-operation she expects from internet companies,” Killock added. “She is causing immense confusion because at the moment she sounds like she is asking for the impossible.”
In the article, Rudd said: “I know some will argue that it’s impossible to have both – that if a system is end-to-end encrypted then it’s impossible ever to access the communication. That might be true in theory. But the reality is different.”
Yet Rudd did not go on to explain how the government intends to access people’s communications without breaking end-to-end encryption.
Instead, she said: “Companies are constantly making trade-offs between security and ‘usability’, and it is here where our experts believe opportunities may lie.”
The nature of such opportunities remains unclear.
Rudd is in Silicon Valley this week to talk to tech firms about how they could better assist the security services in their attempts to track terrorists.
Her column isn’t the first time the government’s attempts to water down encryption have faced criticism
The former head of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, said last month that he supported end-to-end encryption.
“I don’t advocate building in backdoors,” he said. “It’s not a good idea to weaken security for everybody in order to tackle a minority.”
Instead, intelligence agencies should target the devices used by people abusing encryption, the ex spy chief said.