UK prime minister suggests banning encrypted apps like WhatsApp, iMessage

Having access to people's communications is vital for combating terrorism, David Cameron says

david cameron paris

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, left,  and Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt arrive with heads of state to attend the solidarity march in the streets of Paris on Sunday.

Credit: REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

The U.K. may ban online messaging services that offer encryption such as WhatsApp and Apple's iMessage, under surveillance plans laid out by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Services that allow people to communicate without providing access to their messages pose a serious challenge to law enforcement efforts to combat terrorism and other crimes, Cameron said Monday.

He didn't name specific apps, but suggested those with encryption would not jive with new surveillance legislation he's looking to enact if he gets re-elected this year. Such apps include WhatsApp, iMessage, Google Hangouts, Microsoft's Skype, CryptoCat, and more.

"In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which, even in extremists ... that we cannot read?" Cameron said, adding later, "No, we must not."

"The first duty of any government is to keep our country and our people safe," he said.

He didn't say how the government might enforce the legislation or keep people from downloading such apps.

His comments follow the wave of shootings in Paris last week by Islamic extremists. Being able to gather information about people's communications, be that communications records or actual content, could help authorities to thwart and investigate attacks, Cameron said.

But his comments also come at a time of increased concern over government surveillance, and the loss of digital privacy in general. On the same day Cameron delivered his remarks, in the President Obama announced plans for new legislation that would give Americans more control over their data online. A Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, Obama proposed, would allow consumers to decide what pieces of their personal data are collected by companies and decide how the data is used.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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