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WhatsApp, Snapchat and iMessage could be banned in the UK

Marie Brewis | Jan. 16, 2015
Should you be worried and what you can do about it.

Following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, if the Conservatives win the next election PM David Cameron could ban your favourite instant messaging apps, including WhatsApp, Snapchat and Apple's iMessage. So, should you be worried, and what can you do to stop it?

Cameron's problem with instant-messaging services such as WhatsApp is that all use encryption that prevent security services from keeping tabs on us and our conversations. 

He said: "In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which, even in extremis, with a signed warrant from the home secretary personally, that we cannot read? Now, up until now, governments of this country have said no, we must not have such a means of communication. That is why, in extremis, it has been possible to read someone's letter; that is why, in extremis, it has been possible to listen in to someone's telephone call; that is why the same applies with mobile communications.

"Let me stress again: this cannot happen unless the home secretary personally signs a warrant. We have a better system for safeguarding this very intrusive power than probably any other country I can think of.

"But the question remains: are we going to allow a means of communication where it simply isn't possible to do that? And my answer to that question is no we must not. The first duty of any government is to keep our people and our country safe."

London Mayor Boris Johnson also commented: "I'm not interested in this civil liverties stuff. If they're a threat, I want their emails and calls listened to." 

WhatsApp ban: What does it mean for you?
Under Cameron's plans, there are only two viable options - and neither sound good. Either these instant messaging services will be taken offline and people will be forced to use less-secure, unencrypted services, or backdoors will be opened within the apps that make it possible to decrypt messages, which may present new opportunities to hackers and allow the messages of ordinary people to be checked on by the government. In other words, in Cameron's attempts to improve national security from terrorism he will reduce personal privacy and security.

WhatsApp ban: Should you be worried? What can you do about it?
Don't worry too much just yet. It's incredibly unlikely that Cameron will get his wicked way.

His remarks were a knee-jerk reaction in response to the Charlie Hebdo Paris shootings, and if anything show just how little the government understands technology - if terrorists want to collude in private then they will continue to do so, and spying on the normal person on the street won't solve the problem. As an example, last week we wrote about the Dark Web, which proves just how much of the internet is beyond the government's remit. What about VPNs, too?


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