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Your favourite apps could soon be banned under David Cameron’s new initiative

Snapchat, WhatsApp, iMessage and FaceTime all at risk with PM’s proposals

Many of us have awoken the morning after the night before, checked our phones, and asked ourselves why on earth we thought sending a friend a Snapchat of the Dixie’s we ate (or worse) was a good idea. However, if David Cameron wins in the next General Election, you may not even have the choice to send one, let alone regret it afterwards.

Speaking in Paris in the wake of the gruesome terrorist attacks, Cameron pledged to introduce legislation that would ban forms of communication that encrypt their data and therefore prevent it being read by security services. Snapchat, as well as WhatsApp, iMessage and FaceTime all fall into this category and are unreadable, making them vulnerable to what is being termed Cameron’s “Snoopers’ Charter” – under which they would be rendered illegal. The Prime Minister’s concern for the need to step up security in response to an increased threat of terrorism isn’t, in my opinion, unwarranted.

I can understand how a medium of communication that cannot be accessed by security services is, for Cameron and for the general public, a worry and a threat. I can sympathise with him because of the public outcry that inevitably follows terrorist attacks on such a public and violent scale, and his desire to want to be seen to do something that looks like a preventative measure.

But that is exactly the point; banning apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp and iMessage would simply be an illusion of action, not a real step to increase security. For a start, it seems unlikely that terrorist groups who carry out these planned and deadly attacks cannot find a more sophisticated medium for interacting than via Snapchat. It seems dubious to me that they are sending sensitive information via WhatsApp, which could be accessed by anyone who picked up their phones.

Agreed, passing legislation to cut off these apps would provide a short-term solution, but only assuming that terrorists actually use them; furthermore, if these forms of encrypted communication are being employed by terrorists to plot attacks, banning them would not overcome the threat they pose. Technology evolves at a staggering rate: if these apps are blocked by Cameron’s “Snoopers’ Charter”, another means of communication would undoubtedly surface which could be manipulated by those wishing to cause terror.

It is worth considering, however, the threat to freedom of speech that such a measure would elicit. Making it legal for the government to access any message sent by any person at any time is a worrying precedent to set in Britain, and one that smacks of state censorship. I’m not suggesting that I fear Britain would immediately descend into a totalitarian regime; I’m just suggesting that it seems hypocritical for our government to necessitate a total invasion of privacy, when it condemns regimes that do exactly the same thing in other countries.

Rather than banning them entirely, could a compromise not be reached between our governments and the businesses in charge of running these forms of communication, whereby access to the data could be granted under certain circumstances or where a warrant is obtained? For many people, apps like iMessage, Snapchat and WhatsApp provide a great service, a free way of communicating with those close to them, and sharing their day to day lives when they cannot perhaps see each other in person. To totally ban innocent people from this life-enhancing technology would need to be considered thoroughly, because it seems to me an unnecessary and ‘showy’ political tactic, made in response to a terrible tragedy.

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