The British government is now lobbying hard on behalf of Britain’s intelligence agencies, demanding that they be put in a position of being able to read encrypted messaging provided by platforms like WhatsApp.
This demand comes shortly after the terrorist attack on the UK parliament building by Khalid Masood. It has since been revealed that Masood sent several WhatsApp messages before he carried out his attack, and this has been seized on by the British authorities as a reason to give the intelligence agencies “access” to encrypted WhatsApp messages.
This demand also comes shortly after the revelation in the Vault 7 documents published by Wikileaks that the CIA cannot break the encryption used in WhatsApp messages. Whilst the CIA can sometimes read encrypted messages sent by mobile phones via WhatsApp, in order to do so it must capture them in the brief moment before they are encrypted. Presumably that means that the CIA must have identified and been monitoring the specific phone which is sending the messages.
Masood’s attack provides only a flimsy reason for providing the intelligence services with access to encrypted WhatsApp messages. The British authorities say Masood was a lone wolf who acted alone. If so then he cannot have used WhatsApp to plot his terrorist acts with ISIS or with anyone else, and his WhatsApp messages are a red herring.
However it is clear that the intelligence agencies in the Angl0-American world are resolved to extend and deepen their surveillance capabilities so as to make them literally all-encompassing, and that they will seize on events like the Westminster terror attack to provide them with the excuse to do so. Needless to say, if British intelligence agencies are provided with the means to read encrypted WhatsApp messages, then the US intelligence agencies will be also.
Recently there was some astonishment at claims made by the US intelligence agencies during the ‘Russiagate’ scandal that they are able to intercept communications taking place within the Kremlin itself. It is however a highly publicised fact in Russia that some Russian officials use mobile phones which use US technology. Here for example is a picture of former Russian President Medvedev with his Apple IPhone
Given the Wikileaks revelations it is now easy to see how Russian officials indiscrete enough to discuss state issues on their mobile phones might have had their messages or conversations read or overheard by US intelligence, even if they had taken the precaution of encrypting them. That does not by the way mean that this proves that the US intelligence community’s claims about ‘Russiagate’ are true. It all ultimately depends on the interpretation of what the Russian officials said, with the interpretation of intercepted calls and messages being often a contentious affair.
In any event, enabling the West’s intelligence agencies to read even encrypted messages sent via mobile phones will of course make it even easier for the West’s intelligence agencies to intercept messages passing between foreign leaders who use mobile phones. Indeed it will presumably make it possible for the NSA to intercept and store all the calls and messages as part of its bulk collection programme, irrespective of whether they have been encrypted or not.
Given that this is so it is now understandable why Russian President Putin famously does not have a mobile phone. In light of the Wikileaks revelations and the lobbying for Western intelligence agencies to have “access” even to encrypted messages, before long other senior Russian officials as well as officials in sensitive posts in other countries may have to stop using mobile phones as well, at least until countries like Russia and China develop phones that use wholly non US platforms and technologies, and which cannot therefore be compromised.
As for the rest of us, who are obliged to continue to use our existing mobile phones, it seems that we may shortly find that such remaining private space as is left to us is about to diminish even further.
In the meantime a cynic might say that for the operatives of the CIA, GCHQ, the NSA, MI6 and the rest of the alphabet soup of the West’s intelligence agencies, the “War on Terror” and the actions of deranged psychopaths like Khalid Masood is continuing to pay them rich dividends.