Rudd Re-Declares Governments’ Lost War on Strong Encryption

by Thomas L. Knapp…….

UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd is upset. She considers it “unacceptable” that she can’t read your private chat messages and wants that fixed. Naturally, she publicly ties her demand that you surrender your privacy to the fight against terrorism. Fortunately, Rudd won’t get her way. That’s not because her demand is evil and wrong-headed, although it is. It’s because her demand is impossible to implement.

British police and intelligence agencies want to read WhatsApp messages sent and received by Khalid Masood, who killed four and injured 50 on March 22 in London before being shot dead himself. They can’t access those messages because WhatsApp uses “end to end encryption.”

What this means is that WhatsApp messages are encrypted at the sender’s end and decrypted at the receiver’s end. The company itself never has access to the plain text of messages and therefore cannot turn that information over to police.

Rudd would like to see “back doors” built into applications so that governments can access messages’ plain text under “carefully thought-through, legally covered arrangements.” That’s a pipe dream, for two reasons.

First, such a “back door” would destroy both the security of, and the user base for, any app whose creator allowed it. If one government can get in through a back door, so can other governments, and so can non-government hackers. No one who cares about messaging security and privacy (including, but obviously in no way limited to, terrorists) will use such an app.

Secondly, there are, and always will be, secure “end to end encryption” alternatives to apps whose makers allow them to be legally crippled as Rudd would like. That genie escaped the bottle in 1991 when Phil Zimmerman released the first version of “Pretty Good Privacy,” a strong encryption program that anyone can install and learn to use on, these days, almost any device (using the OpenPGP standard).

Governments’ war on strong encryption has been over for more than two decades. Strong encryption, and the public, won.

That doesn’t mean your encrypted messages are secure, though. As WikiLeaks’s “Vault 7” release of CIA documents shows, the world’s intelligence agencies have shifted focus from hobbling encryption to compromising our devices and the operating systems that run on them. That way they can read our messages before we encrypt them or after we decrypt them.

Remember: It’s not Amber Rudd and us versus the terrorists. It’s Amber Rudd and the terrorists versus us.


Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.

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2 thoughts on “Rudd Re-Declares Governments’ Lost War on Strong Encryption

  1. Another well thought article from Thomas L. Knapp!

    His summary paragraph might make a t-shirt or bumper sticker, although it should be expanded to:

    “Remember: It’s not Government and us versus the terrorists. It’s Government and the terrorists versus us.”

    Fear has long been used as the great motivator in every form of marketing including elections and political propaganda.

    “Terrorists” against certain national citizens have been created by government terrorist actions against other national citizens. When one country’s government invades another country, that is a terrifying attack. When your family member or close friend is injured or killed as “collateral damage” in such an invasion, your hurt and angry revenge upon accessible citizens of the invading country is labeled as terrorism. I suppose it is, but never forget that the origin of the terrorist act motivation was the government of the invading country.

    It may be that fear of its own citizens is the motivation for government to engender fear within its citizenry of some other bogey man. That fear can then be used for public support of government efforts to more carefully monitor citizen activity and expression. This is the exact anti-thesis of the US Constitution which was born of an oppressive government that ceased to benevolently represent its citizens. Let us be vigilant to defend our Constitution instead of those who would subvert it.

    And let us also not fall for rhetoric that would make us unreasonably fearful of any class of others just because of some difference being exploited to manipulate our thinking. Amen.

  2. You bring up an important point. Is collateral damage and deaths ever acceptable? It seems that in all aspects of our lives that it is. It is called the herd mentality that many feel does not work. It is because of this that many countries hate the US. Governments feel that protecting the masses is more important than any collateral deaths. Maybe it is in the short run but what about long term. We have this same mentality in war and with vaccinations. We play Russian Roulette with both.

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