Paddick: Spying on encrypted messages would be draconian and ineffective

The Home Secretary Amber Rudd has demanded that security services be given access to users’ encrypted messages on services like WhatsApp. It’s kind of good that we have someone who actually knows what they are talking about, because they have been an Assistant Commissioner in the Metropolitan Police, to assess these plans. Brian Paddick is not impressed. He said:

These terrorists want to destroy our freedoms and undermine our democratic society.

By implementing draconian laws that limit our civil liberties, we would playing into their hands.

My understanding is there are ways security services could view the content of suspected terrorists’ encrypted messages and establish who they are communicating with.

Having the power to read everyone’s text messages is neither a proportionate nor an effective response.

The real question is, could lives have been saved in London last week if end-to-end encryption had been banned? All the evidence suggests that the answer is no.

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  • “After four days of intensive inquiries across England and Wales, involving hundreds of officers, the Metropolitan police said they had so far failed to establish the reason for the attack. It is continuing to look at whether Masood was prompted by online propaganda by Islamic State, which has claimed he was a “soldier”, or whether he had some other sense of grievance.” (

    Would we be talking about access to users’ encrypted messages on services like WhatsApp without the recent attack in London? Is that why it’s being called a terrorist attack by media and politicians before the police have been able to confirm that was his motivation?

  • Brian Paddick 26th Mar '17 - 3:35pm

    In this case, if they knew he sent a WhatsApp message, it’s because they have his phone. If they have his phone, they know what that message was and who it was sent to. So immediate action because of last week’s attack = none. If the security services have someone under active consideration as a terrorist or serious criminal, they have other means of establishing what sent and received encrypted messages say. These are global apps. You can’t impose a ban without international agreement or a U.K. firewall blocking the outside world.

  • Daniel Walker 26th Mar '17 - 5:55pm

    Lord Paddick is right. Desirable or not, and I lean to not, it’s not possible. Good-quality encryption is too easy to do, too widespread and there are too many legitimate uses (e.g. banking, healthcare, or indeed intimate conversations with one’s partner)

  • A security service is something you hire to guard an empty building site. Can we please stop using this term to refer to our secret police.

  • Antony Watts 27th Mar '17 - 7:53am

    We all need a better understanding of the use of encryption. and how it works. As I understand it many of the systems used give end-to-end encryption, the man in the middle, be it our security services or the makers (whats app, Apple, Google…) cannot decode the messages either, only the recipient can.

    Like a whisper in the corner of the pub, or behind thatwall over there…

  • grahame lamb 27th Mar '17 - 8:45am

    Lord Paddick says that “having the power” (my emphasis) to access end-to-end encrypted messages (eg Whatsapp) would be neither proportionate or effective. I disagree. The power need not be used except where there is reason for suspicion. Looking at everyones’s stuff would be pointless. A waste of time.
    As with all policing of any criminal activity in a democracy we need to keep at least one step ahead. A game of cat and mouse perhaps. Or a game of spies. If game is the right word in the context of terrorism. As someone once said: the game isn’t over until the game is over. Not over yet – if it ever will be.

  • A potentially good outcome from Brexit! The UK government outside of the EU will have even less influence over world players than they have now. However, I think in the coming weeks and months we will see a two faced Coservative government, the one going for Brexit, the other using our remaining time in the EU to utilise the leverage it gives us in the world…

  • Amber Rudd also said this – “I know it sounds a bit like we’re stepping away from legislation, but we’re not. What I’m saying is: The best people, who understand the technology, who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff even being put up, not just taking it down, but stop it getting up in the first place, are going to be them. That’s why I’d like to have an industry-wide board set up where they do it themselves.” – which goes to show that she is as technically illiterate as most politicians.

    Khalid Masood sent a whatsapp message a few minutes before driving his car into people. If that message had been unencrypted it would not have made an ounce of difference to the outcome, and as Brian points out the police know after the fact who he messaged because they have his phone.

    It’s highly cynical and totally disengenous to attack end-to-end encryption following this most recent attack, when the fact that an encrypted message was sent is totally irrelevant in this case.

  • “The power need not be used except where there is reason for suspicion.”

    Quite a broad reason though –

    Otherwise strong stuff from Lord Paddick

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