WhatsApp, Snapchat and iMessage could be banned in the UK: Should you be worried and what you can do about it

Cameron wants to ban WhatsApp, but here's why he'll never get his way



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? Also see: New WhatsApp charging hoax surfaces

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. Also see: Security Advisor

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." Also see: Facebook Messenger isn't evil and it isn't about to spy on you

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?

Plus, not only do the Conservatives have to win the next election (and there are other parties that would love your vote), but Cameron faces a great deal of opposition to his desire to decrypt IM - and not just from WhatsApp's 500,000,000 users.

Peter Sommer, professor of cybersecurity and digital evidence at de Montford and the Open Universities, told The Guardian: "You can pass laws in Westminster until you're blue in the face, but you can't enforce them."

And while the government wants the power to read our private messages, WhatsApp and other instant-messaging services have our privacy at their hearts.

Commenting previously on its stance on privacy in its blog, WhatsApp said: "Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible: You don't have to give us your name and we don't ask for your email address. We don't know your birthday. We don't know your home address. We don't know where you work. We don't know your likes, what you search for on the internet or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that."

Follow Marie Brewis on Twitter

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Internet-based applications and servicesAppleinstant messagingSnapChatWhatsAppsecurityencryptionlegislationgovernment

More about AppleFacebookMessenger

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Marie Brewis

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place