Westminster attack should be a “wake-up call” to Google, Microsoft and Facebook

Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook are to meet with Home Secretary Amber Rudd to discuss messaging encryption and security services’ access to terrorists’ communications in the wake of last week’s attack in Westminster.

Although she will voice her concerns about encryption, the main focus of the meeting will be on efforts to tackle terrorist material and propaganda online.

Earlier this week, industry experts said the call to give intelligence agencies ‘backdoor’ access to messaging apps was “misguided”. 

Technology giants have repeatedly faced calls to do more to detect and take down terror-related content from their platforms.

It comes on the day a coroner is due to open the inquest of 52-year-old Khalid Masood, who was shot dead by police after killing four people and injuring dozens of others during a rampage through the heart of London lasting less than two minutes.

On Wednesday the acting head of Scotland Yard, Craig Mackey, said the Westminster attack should be a “wake-up call” for firms.

Rudd will use the private meeting to urge companies to do more to ensure terrorists and extremists are not able to use their platforms to disseminate propaganda.

It is understood ministers want communication service providers to use technical solutions so extremist content can be automatically identified before it is widely circulated.

The government is also pushing for firms to form an industry-wide body.

A fresh debate over authorities’ access to communications was sparked after it was reported that Masood’s phone connected with encrypted messaging service WhatsApp shortly before the atrocity.

Controversy has centred on so-called end-to-end encryption, which means messages are encoded so only the sending and receiving devices can read them.

At the weekend Rudd said there should be “no place for terrorists to hide”.

She stressed that end-to-end encryption “has a place” but there should be a mechanism for police and security services to access communications relating to terrorism after obtaining a warrant.

Privacy campaigners and opposition politicians cautioned against any move to build “back doors” into encryption, saying this could weaken cyber security for law-abiding citizens.

WhatsApp has said it is “co-operating with law enforcement as they continue their investigations”.

The topic of encryption will be discussed further in future meetings.

An inquest for the four victims was opened and adjourned at Westminster Coroner’s Court on Wednesday.

Kurt Cochran, 54, Leslie Rhodes, 75, and Aysha Frade died after Muslim convert Masood drove at pedestrians on Westminster Bridge.

Pc Keith Palmer, 48, died from a single stab wound to the chest before Masood was killed.

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