Home secretary Amber Rudd has declared she doesn't need to "understand how encryption works" to see how it's helping criminals, as she continues to make the case for a crackdown on end-to-end encryption messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and iMessage.
Rudd made the comments during the Spectator magazine's debate about internet freedom and encryption at the Conservative party's annual conference in Manchester on Monday night.
Asked by a party member whether members of her government actually understood how encryption worked and the difficulties in forcing a change on global tech giants who owned the platforms like Facebook and Google, Rudd replied: "I don't need to understand how encryption works to understand how it's helping, end-to-end encryption, the criminals."
She said it was easy to "patronise" her colleagues when it came to their understanding of end-to-end encryption: "We will do our best to understand it."
She went on: "I do feel that there is a sea of criticism for any of us in politics who try to legislate in new areas... [We] will automatically be sneered at and laughed at for not getting it right."
Rudd has been calling on big tech giants like Facebook and Apple to give security agencies some sort of access to end-to-end encryption following a string of terror attacks which have involved the companies' messaging apps.
But some experts have suggested that what she's asking for would fundamentally water down encryption and put a backdoor into the secure platforms used by millions of people.
On Monday night, Michael Beckerman from the Internet Association told the crowd that WhatsApp and iMessage relied on mathematics, which could be replicated onto other platforms.
"Quite simply, it's math, it's really what it is," Beckerman said. "To the home secretary's point of just wanting to remove it from end-to-end, that's an understandable goal."
"Since it is just math and it has been invented, it can't be uninvented," he went on.
Rudd replied: "I am not suggesting that we do that."
"I understand the principle of end-to-end encryption and the fact it can't be unwrapped... There are other areas, to do with metadata...to do with other access that could help and we don't get that help."
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Mark Di Stefano at email@example.com.
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