London police chief Cressida Dick has used the 20th anniversary of 9/11 to attack companies like Apple, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal for offering end-to-end encrypted message services.

It follows the British Home Secretary – in charge of policing for the UK – seeking tech companies to find some way to break end-to-end encryption

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dick wrote an opinion piece in The Telegraph in which she remembered 9/11, and says that encrypted messaging services make stopping terrorist attacks harder, or even impossible.

Twenty years ago, the world looked on as one of the most devastating terrorist attacks played out on television screens.

I was newly appointed as a Commander in the Met at the time. I watched on the 9th floor of Scotland Yard, and as the events unfolded I realised they would not only have a seismic impact in the US, but the aftershocks and reverberations would be felt here in the UK and across the entire world […]

9/11 was a watershed moment, confirming that terrorism was a truly global threat that required a global response. Since then, the terrorism landscape has changed and shifted in a number of ways. What began as our response to the rising threat from Islamist terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in the early 2000s has continued through to confronting Daesh and their ability to inspire and direct attacks across the globe, through to the terrorist threat from extreme right-wing groups.

That global shift has only gathered pace in recent years with advances in communications technology. Terrorist groups – whatever their warped ideology or persuasion – have exploited this to reach, recruit and inspire anyone, anywhere and at any time through social media and the internet.

The threat of sophisticated terrorist cells being directed from overseas has been added to by that of the individuals carrying out rudimentary attacks with very little planning or warning. The current focus on encryption by many big tech companies is only serving to make our job to identify and stop these people even harder, if not impossible in some cases.

Home Secretary Priti Patel last week announced that the government was seeking tech companies that could find a way “to keep children safe in environments such as online messaging platforms with end-to-end encryption.” Between the two of them, they have used the two most emotive issues of terrorism and child sexual abuse as justification for seeking to compromise the privacy of messaging services like iMessage, FaceTime, and WhatsApp.

The statements happened at a time when even Apple is under attack for its CSAM scanning plans. It has faced significant objections from civil rights groups, Apple employees, and security professionals, and responded by delaying its planned rollout.

Photo: Paul Gover/The Telegraph

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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