Is MI5’s case for banning WhatsApp well-founded?

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MI5 chief Andrew Parker has called for greater power in monitoring online communications, arguing that the terrorist threat to the U.K. is at its peak in the three five decades and social media networks need to share user information with governments and law enforcement agencies in order to help track and arrest persons endangering the country’s national security.

The motion set by Parker could lead to the possible banning of highly encrypted communications, which could render messaging apps such as the Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Apple-made iMessage illegal.

In similar comments, Prime Minister David Cameron had previously stipulated that he does not want to “allow a means of communication between people which […] we cannot read.”

Although Parker believes  his institution’s concerns are well-founded and his suggestion will serve national security purposes, others “beg to differ,” and compare his behavior to those of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The argument in favor of enhanced monitoring is that intelligence agencies will be able to better spot terrorist cells and take the necessary actions to prevent terrorist attacks from taking place.

But the collateral damage is also considerable. The passing of a law that bans highly encrypted communications will be good news to data-theft criminals who understand the fast increasing value of online data and are trying to make a living off stealing others’ information. Lowering the level of encryption in messaging apps means hackers with malicious intents will also be able to crack into communications and steal sensitive personal and corporate data.

Also, giving governments and intelligence agencies freedom to tap communications at will is at best unethical, and although terrorism is a real concern, it is usually vaguely defined by law and has been in many cases used to address other non-security-related concerns. Intelligence and security firms are usually very secretive and tight-lipped about their information and endeavors, and on the morrow of lowered encryption, you’ll have to live with the fact that the government is free to pry into your most basic and intimate communications.

Do you think the MI5’s worries are well-founded? Feel free to leave a note in the comments section.

 

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