Tory MPs adopt extra-secure messaging tool – despite government’s anti-encryption stance

Written by Sam Trendall on 20 December 2019 in News
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Reports reveal members have switched from WhatsApp to Signal

Credit: Piqsels

Conservative MPs have reportedly moved en masse from WhatsApp to Signal – a messaging app which offers users enhanced security measures.

Both platforms provide users with end-to-end encryption of text and voice messages. This means that only senders and recipients can see or hear message content; not even WhatsApp or Signal themselves can gain access.

But, as an additional security measure, Signal also offers users the option to auto-delete messages after specified time period – leaving no record whatsoever of the communication.

The Tories’ move to the open-source platform, which runs on a non-profit basis, comes following a number of high-profile leaks over the years stemming from WhatsApp group messages.


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But a party spokesperson told the Guardian that the primary reason for the switch is not to enhance security, but simply that WhatsApp groups are limited to a maximum of 256 participants – more than 100 fewer than the number of Tory MPs that now sit in parliament.

Nevertheless, the adoption of an even more secure encryption-based service is somewhat ironic when set against the backdrop of the succession of high-profile Conservative politicians who have fiercely criticised tech firms’ usage of end-to-end encryption. 

None more so than the incumbent home secretary Priti Patel who, earlier this year, was a co-signatory of a joint communiqué demanding that tech companies equip their products with so-called back doors that would, subject to obtaining the legal go-ahead, allow authorities to access encrypted communications data on demand. The edict was issued by Patel and counterparts from each of the UK’s allies Five Eyes security community: the US; Canada; Australia; and New Zealand.

In July, Patel said: “Tech firms should not develop their systems and services, including end-to-end encryption, in ways that empower criminals or put vulnerable people at risk”.

The irony of the new Tory government embracing a messaging platform with even greater levels of privacy was not lost on some. Jim Killock, executive director of privacy campaigning organisation the Open Rights Group, told the Guardian that Patel would likely “be quite confused and alarmed as her party votes with its feet for secure messaging platforms”.

“It’s great to hear that Conservative MPs are learning about the virtues of Signal and secure private communications,” he added. “Let’s hope they don’t also end up voting to make these private messaging tools wholly insecure with legally mandated backdoors that end up being used by police and criminals alike.”

 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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