Should the Government be in Our WhatsApp Messages?

What do you on WhatsApp? Talk shit about your ex-boyfriends? Send eye-rolling emojis about your boss? Perhaps a cheeky nude? Point is, what happens on WhatsApp– we really, really want to stay on WhatsApp. We want to keep it private.

Since its launch in January 2010, WhatsApp has revolutionised the way we communicate. From aubergine emojis to group chats and some major muting – WhatsApp’s probably the most used app on our phones. But, could the app that boasts over a billion users worldwide be a danger to public safety?

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Following the terrorist attack in London on the 26 March, UK home secretary Amber Rudd described the government’s inability to read messages on end-to-end encrypted messaging apps as “completely unacceptable.” She added that the services must build mechanisms that would give police access to the messages of terrorists such as Khalid Masood, who logged into minutes before his attack in Westminster.

Because of WhatsApp’s “end-to-end” encryption – a fancy way of that only you and your recipient can read your messages – even the secret services are not able to infiltrate private message. Critics are warning that this provides a space for terrorists to communicate freely.

“It’s absurd to have a situation where terrorists are talking to each other on a formal platform and it can't be accessed,” said Rudd as she called for “back door” access to encrypted communication.

But experts have said the home secretary’s demands for change show she is “seriously out of her depth” with technology. Lee Munson, a researcher at Comparitech, a cybersecurity company, told the Times: “Everyone knows that once one service is known to be broken, the bad guys will simply move on to the next. In the meantime, it is ordinary, law-abiding citizens who will be wondering whether their current government, or the next, or the one after that, is spying on their mundane but no less privacy-deserving lives.”

And privacy – or the lack of – is the major issue here. Even if your messages include nothing more illicit than a well-lit nude, there’s a growing awareness that even a random leak or hack can really muck up your life. We’re all familiar with assaults against celebrities’ privacy – from unflattering paparazzi shots to Kim K’s robbery – but this isn’t exclusively an issue for the rich and famous. Over the last few years, everyone from teeny boppers sharing memes to tweeting Grandmas have to decide how public they want their life to be.

We get to chose how often we post, how many people we share a photo with – hell we even get to choose how many seconds a photo exist for. Some of us even have a ‘Finsta’ – a private, funny Instagram separate from our public account. We’ve never had more control – in theory at least. Though we can try to have it both ways, the truth is our privacy has never really been a choice.

Experts say that it is highly unlikely that WhatsApp will make the changes required by the home secretary without a fight. The company has frequently emphasised its commitment to privacy saying: “Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.” After its acquisition by Facebook in 2014 co-founder Jan Koum said: “Above all else, I want to make sure you understand how deeply I value the principle of private communication. For me, this is very personal. I was born in Ukraine and grew up in the USSR during the 1980s. Our principles will not change.”

What are your thoughts? Do you think the Government has a right to access every part of our lives?

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Kirsty studied Law but now write about lipstick, shoes and politics on the internet. Sorry Mum. She likes to write about other things too, spot more of her work on her site hellotwobirds.com
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