Government uses Westminster terror attack to limit hard-fought freedom
The reaction to Khalid Massod’s murderous attack in London was clear: we will not let the heinous actions of one man threaten our hard won freedoms. Theresa May assured us that “Any attempt to defeat those values [liberty, democracy, freedom of speech, the spirit of freedom, the rule of law and human rights] through violence and terror is doomed to failure.”
And then came news that two minutes before he attacked, Masood received an encrypted message via WhatsApp. Would knowing the contents of that message have helped the police stop Masood’s “depraved” and “sick” crime? The police weren’t watching him, so maybe not.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd, like May, her eavesdropping predecessor in the Home Office who introduced the invasive Investigatory Powers Act, is no fan of privacy. Rudd says encryption represents a threat to national security. She wants apps like WattsAp to aid government investigations by letting them in to look around.
And so from not giving into terrorists by refusing to play the terrorists at their own game, the State soon begins to chip away at our liberties.
The Liberal Democrat’s home affairs spokesman, former deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan police and onetime London mayoral hopeful Brian Paddick says allowing the authorities to view encrypted messages would be “neither a proportionate nor an effective response” to the Westminster attack. “These terrorists want to destroy our freedoms and undermine our democratic society,” he says. “By implementing draconian laws that limit our civil liberties, we would be playing into their hands.”
The Sun uses its editorial to argue that Rudd is right. “Home Secretary Amber Rudd is right to read them [WhatsApp, Apple and Google] the riot act and tell them the terrorists should have no place to hide,” the paper thunders. “Because that’s just what WhatsApp – owned by Facebook – lets them do. By encrypting messages, it stops the police being able to track terror plots.They can’t even investigate in the aftermath of a terrorist atrocity.”
But “if you build a back door, it’s there for everybody to access,” says Tony Anscombe in the same paper. “And if you store that data you collect, even in encrypted form, how secure is it? All these data breaches we hear about show our privacy is regularly being breached by hackers, so the action suggested by the Home Secretary would only open us all up to further invasions of privacy.“
In 2012 the murderous Syrian government banned WhatsApp in order “to disrupt the rebel opposition’s cellular privacy”. In a dangerous place, privacy is paramount for many. It’s matter of life and death. “WhatsApp is very popular among Syrians, and particularly Syrian opposition activists,” says Tuma, a Syrian journalist. “Even Free Syrian Army soldiers are using the app.” The Syrian government wants to police communications because it fears the people. The UK government wants to police communications to protect the people. But protecting citizens from criminals soon slips into monitoring us all. A rogue State begins to look like the Free West.
May should wonder how she can champion free expression and free speech through observation and mistrust? With no private lives, no space to look at non-conformist things and express ideas, however mentally negligible and far-fetched, privacy become public spectacle. Afraid of standing out and attracting police attention, we ape each other’s movements, keeping in step with what the authorities deem acceptable and unthreatening.
You can still believe things but you dare not say them aloud. People become isolated, hidden behind a bland facade. Is that what not giving into the terrorists looks like?