WhatsApp and other popular messaging apps may be banned in the U.K. if Prime Minister David Cameron wins reelection this year. Cameron spoke in Paris about some new surveillance plans he is proposing in response to last week’s reign of terror in France, which claimed 17 lives.
Snapchat, other messaging apps targeted
According to The Independent, the prime minister wants to ban services like WhatsApp, iMessage, FaceTime and Snapchat because law enforcement officials can’t read messages sent through them even if they have a warrant. Although the three popular services were not specifically named, they could be caught in the net because they are encrypted in such a manner that the messages can’t be read by others.
Other chat apps that encrypt their data like Telegram could also be banned if Cameron is reelected.
Too much or not enough?
The prime minister’s comments seem bold and intrusive in the wake of the recent digital spying program run by the U.S. National Security Agency, which was publicized by whistleblower Edward Snowden. However, they’re also understandable as law enforcement and counter-terrorism forces find it necessary to step up their efforts amid a rising number of terror attacks around the world.
Cameron’s words came in response to last week’s bloodbath in France. Gunmen killed 12 people at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after it printed a cartoon showing Islamic prophet Muhammad. Several others were killed in separate incidents in other parts of the country.
The battle for digital privacy
The world’s biggest technology companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google and Yahoo have built a united front as they battle for users’ digital privacy. WhatsApp and Snapchat have also vowed to keep their services encrypted so as to protect their users’ privacy. WhatsApp is one of the most recent companies to add encryption to its service, which it did late last year.
Privacy watchdog groups have also spoken up in an attempt to keep government snooping at bay. They noted that encrypted messaging apps are often used by victims of crime and those in oppressed countries to protect themselves.
As The Next Web points out, it will be virtually impossible to eliminate the use of popular apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat. The government could order that the apps be removed from the main app stores, but people tend to find ways to work around bans such as the one proposed in the U.K.
Also even if Cameron and other Conservatives win the general election, they may have to form a coalition with the Liberals, which would likely keep the proposal from becoming law. Also civil liberties groups will likely put up quite a fight to keep such a ban from happening.