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UK Government Leans On Human Rights Law To Prevent Transparency of Its Encrypted Messages, While Calling to End Private Messages For Citizens

Hypocritical.

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In a high court case that can be seen as a brazenly hypocritical, the UK government is shielding its own encrypted WhatsApp communications from scrutiny under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a treaty often criticized by its own Conservative Party members. This move comes despite the government’s clamor for access to citizens’ encrypted messages.

This unfolded as government lawyers invoked Article 8 of the ECHR in an attempt to counter Lady Heather Hallett, the inquiry chair’s demand for unredacted files, including the entire WhatsApp history of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a former aide, Henry Cook. Article 8 focuses on the right to privacy, preventing unnecessary or disproportionate intrusions into an individual’s private and family life.

James Eadie QC, representing the government, argued that disclosing sensitive personal information in this context would violate Article 8 unless it is “rendered strictly necessary by the specific features of the proceedings and by the facts of the case.” Furthermore, Eadie posited that handing over all files would also contravene the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Eadie didn’t dispute the relevancy of WhatsApp messages concerning key pandemic decision-making. However, he described the demand for all messages, including those not related to pandemic decisions, as an untenable “irrational conclusion.”

The irony lies in the fact that the same Conservative government, which is now leaning on the ECHR for data protection, has been a vocal critic of the end-to-end encrypted private messages.

The government is navigating treacherous waters as a storm of opposition gathers against its contentious Online Safety Bill which is an assault on privacy and free speech through its undermining of end-to-end encryption. This mounting resistance has stoked fears that secure messaging platforms could jump ship from the UK market.

The Online Safety Bill, which was initially put to paper in May 2021, aims to grant the UK government power to effectively force companies to provide backdoor access to end-to-end encrypted systems, forcing them to scan content.

The government has positioned this legislation as a safeguard against things such as “hate speech.” However, the cyber realm is ringing with the growing disapproval from industry giants, security mavens, and privacy watchdogs.

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