Encryption ban proposal in the United Kingdom

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The UK encryption ban is a pledge by former British prime minister David Cameron to ban online messaging applications that offer end-to-end encryption, such as WhatsApp, iMessage, and Snapchat,[1][2][3][4] under a nationwide surveillance plan.[5][6][7] Cameron's proposal was in response to the services which allow users to communicate without providing the UK security services access to their messages,[5] which in turn could allegedly allow suspected terrorists a safe means of communication.[8]


On 15 January 2015, David Cameron asked American president Barack Obama to increase pressure on American Internet companies to work more closely with British intelligence agencies, in order to deny potential terrorists a "safe space" to communicate,[9] as well as seeking co-operation to implement tighter surveillance controls.[10] Under new proposals, messaging apps will have to either add a backdoor to their programs, or risk a potential ban within the UK.[11] To justify the proposal to ban encryption, David Cameron claims that "In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people, which even in extremis, with a signed warrant from the home secretary personally, that we cannot read?"[12] In defending surveillance of Internet messaging, Cameron pointed out that the British state already possessed the legal ability to read people's private letters and to surveil their private phone calls.

In July 2016, newly appointed home secretary Amber Rudd confirmed the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill would grant any Secretary of State the powers to force communication service providers to remove or disable end-to-end encryption.[13]


The UK's Information Commissioner Christopher Graham criticized the plans by saying "We must avoid knee-jerk reactions. In particular, I am concerned about any compromising of effective encryption for consumers of online services."[14] The ISPA claims that the proposal risks "undermining the UK's status as a good and safe place to do business".[14] While David Cameron had also claimed that app providers have "a social responsibility to fight the battle against terrorism", the founder of Lavabit had also criticized the proposals, saying the introduction of backdoors would leave systems more vulnerable.[15][16]

Resultant legislation[edit]

The resulting legislation was the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (nicknamed the Snoopers' Charter) which comprehensively sets out and in limited respects expands the electronic surveillance powers of the UK Intelligence Community and police. It also aims to improve the safeguards on the exercise of those powers.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ian Morris. "WhatsApp And Snapchat Could Be Banned In The U.K. After Charlie Hebdo Murders". forbes. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  2. ^ Thomas Tamblyn. "David Cameron Wants To Ban Snapchat". Huffington Post. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  3. ^ Andrew Griffin. "WhatsApp and iMessage could be banned under new surveillance plans". Independent. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  4. ^ Paris Cowan. "UK PM wants to ban encrypted comms". itnews. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  5. ^ a b Zach Miners. "UK prime minister suggests banning encrypted apps like WhatsApp, iMessage". PC World. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  6. ^ Tom Warren. "UK government could ban encrypted communications with new surveillance powers". The Verge. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  7. ^ Nicholas Watt. "David Cameron pledges anti-terror law for internet after Paris attacks". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  8. ^ Jane Wakefield. "Can the government ban encryption?". BBC News. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  9. ^ Nicholas Watt. "David Cameron seeks cooperation of US president over encryption crackdown". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  10. ^ Neil McAllister. "The Register". Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  11. ^ David Kravets. "UK prime minister wants backdoors into messaging apps or he'll ban them". arstechnica. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  12. ^ Steve Ranger. "Is banning encryption a crazy plan or an absolute necessity? The reality is much more complicated than that". ZDnet. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  13. ^ J Martin, Alexander (14 July 2016). "UK gov says new Home Sec will have powers to ban end-to-end encryption". Retrieved 15 July 2016.
  14. ^ a b Ernie Smith. "After U.K. prime minister takes aim at encrypted messages, critics speak out". associationsnow. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  15. ^ Dominic Rushe. "Lavabit founder condemns David Cameron's 'insane' plan to ban encryption". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  16. ^ Danvers Baillieu. "Why David Cameron's crusade against encryption could backfire on business". cityam. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  17. ^ Travis, Alan (4 November 2015). "Investigatory powers bill: the key points". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 1 November 2020.

External links[edit]