UK Legislators Are Using Encrypted Messaging Services To Possibly Dodge Records Requests

from the never-attribute-to-stupidity-what-can-be-chalked-up-to-malice dept

Sure, we all love secure communications. And government officials shouldn't be afraid of using encrypted communication options. But they need to remember their obligations to the public. Security can often be converted to obscurity. And yet, government officials migrate towards encrypted messaging options, but not for security reasons. Instead, they choose the same options they decry in public. Encryption is for criminals they claim, even as they avail themselves of the "criminal" option to "protect" themselves from the public they serve.

Lawmakers continue to demand "lawful access" to encrypted/fleeting communications. And they do this while utilizing the same services. Whatever it takes to keep the general public from viewing the sausage-making process. It's not just a US thing. Our counterparts in the UK are just as hypocritical, as the BBC reports.

Ministers could be banned from using self-destructing messages on Whatsapp or Signal for official business if a legal challenge is successful.

Transparency campaigners have sent a letter to the government, arguing that politicians and staff could avoid accountability by using these features.

Members of both the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet use Whatsapp and Signal.

Whatsapp and Signal both utilize end-to-end encryption. More relevant to this discussion is both apps allow for automatic deletion of messages. The UK government needs to say more than this when it's utilizing apps with built-in self-destruct options.

The Cabinet Office said records of official communications are "retained in line with guidance".

We're apparently just supposed to believe the government is retaining messages delivered via services that have baked in options for periodic, automatic deletion of communications.

This isn't to say government officials shouldn't avail themselves of encrypted communication options. They definitely should. Encryption is a valuable frontline defense against malicious hackers. But policies should be written to specifically address this in order to ensure the most important stakeholders in governance -- the members of the public paying their salaries -- can still access official communications.

If the government can't sort this out itself, maybe the courts will have to. There's a lawsuit threat dangling over the UK government if it can't provide an adequate response to public interest groups that suspect lawmakers' moves to encrypted services aren't so much about security as they are about opacity. Campaign law group Foxglove has already filed a lawsuit demanding to know whether the government is utilizing this for security reasons or for the other reason, which would be to separate the public from information the public should have.

As was stated earlier: encryption is great. It secures communications. What it shouldn't do is provide a handy excuse for government employees to ditch their obligations to the public. By all means, keep malicious actors out. But let the public in.

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Filed Under: encryption, records requests, transparency, uk


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  • icon
    ECA (profile), 2 Apr 2021 @ 10:37am

    How far to go?

    " Encryption is for criminals they claim, "
    "Ministers could be banned from using self-destructing messages on Whatsapp or Signal for official business "

    Love these comments.
    Think how paranoid you could make a police officer, by whispering to your Passenger a few times.

    If you are paranoid that your constituents Might not Like what you are doing/saying. QUIT doing.
    I still suggest that Those Elected are Employees, and should be treated As Such. And I think its Time to remind them, and those that come After.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 2 Apr 2021 @ 10:47am

    Once again this shows that political leaders believe in rules for thee but not for me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 2 Apr 2021 @ 11:06am

      Re:

      almost.
      If you got enough money, we just want a part of it, or we make your life hell. Is the gov attitude. They will even HELP you make more, as long as they get their share.

      They will let you mess with the stock exchange and the banks.
      Even change the laws so you can be Right, and everyone else is wrong until someone pays them more to change it again.
      You can even get us to got war for Some odd reason, like rebuilding a nation into a Mass producer of goods, turn all the farmers into Cheap Manufacturing labor.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Apr 2021 @ 12:27pm

    Something something FBI was telling the truth, the criminals are going dark... they just didn't tell us which criminals were doing it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Apr 2021 @ 1:18pm

    Broken clock I guess

    Various governments have been trying to cripple encryption by insisting that it's used by criminals to hide their actions, looks like that claim was based upon personal experience.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tin-Foil-Hat, 3 Apr 2021 @ 4:53am

    I guess they're right

    Criminals are using encryption to dodge accountability.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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