U.K. urges ac­cess to at­tacker’s so­cial me­dia

Khalid Ma­sood sent en­crypted mes­sage just be­fore act­ing.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Gre­gory Katz

West­min­ster LON­DON — Bridge at­tacker Khalid Ma­sood sent a What­sApp mes­sage that can­not be ac­cessed be­cause it was en­crypted by the pop­u­lar mes­sag­ing ser­vice, a top Bri­tish se­cu­rity of­fi­cial said Sun­day.

Bri­tish press re­ports sug­gest Ma­sood used the mes­sag­ing ser­vice owned by Face­book just min­utes be­fore the Wed­nes­day ram­page that left three pedes­tri­ans and one po­lice of­fi­cer dead and dozens more wounded.

As con­tro­versy swirled over the en­crypted mes­sages, po­lice made another ar­rest in Birm­ing­ham, Eng­land, where Ma­sood had lived. The 30-year-old is one of two men now in cus­tody over pos­si­ble links to the at­tack. Nei­ther has been charged or pub­licly named.

Ma­sood was shot dead on the grounds of Par­lia­ment.

Home Sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd used ap­pear­ances on BBC and Sky News to urge What­sApp and other en­crypted ser­vices to make their plat­forms ac­ces­si­ble to in­tel­li­gence ser­vices and po­lice try­ing to car­ry­ing out law­ful eaves­drop­ping.

“We need to make sure that or­ga­ni­za­tions like What­sApp — and there are plenty of oth­ers like that — don’t pro­vide a se­cret place for ter­ror­ists to com­mu­ni­cate with each other,” she said.

Rudd did not pro­vide any de­tails about Ma­sood’s use of What­sApp, say­ing only “this ter­ror­ist sent a What­sApp mes­sage and it can’t be ac­cessed.”

But her call for a “back door” sys­tem to al­low author­i­ties to re­trieve in­for­ma­tion is likely to meet re­sis­tance from the tech in­dus­try, which has faced pre­vi­ous law en­force­ment de­mands for ac­cess to data af­ter ma­jor at­tacks.

In the United States, Ap­ple fought the FBI’s re­quest for the pass­codes needed to un­lock an iPhone that had been used by one of the per­pe­tra­tors in the 2015 ex­trem­ist at­tack in San Bernardino, California.

The FBI ini­tially claimed it could ob­tain the data only with Ap­ple’s help, but ul­ti­mately found another way to hack into the locked phone.

Ma­sood drove a rented SUV into pedes­tri­ans on West­min­ster Bridge be­fore smash­ing it into Par­lia­ment’s gates and rush­ing onto the grounds, where he fa­tally stabbed a po­lice­man and was shot by other of­fi­cers.

Po­lice are try­ing to pin­point his mo­tive and iden­tify any pos­si­ble ac­com­plices, mak­ing the What­sApp mes­sage a po­ten­tial clue to his state of mind and his so­cial me­dia con­tacts.

Rudd said at­tacks like Ma­sood’s would be eas­ier to pre­vent if author­i­ties could pen­e­trate en­crypted ser­vices af­ter ob­tain­ing war­rants sim­i­lar to the ones used to lis­ten in on tele­phone calls.

With­out a change in the sys­tem, she said ter­ror­ists would be able to com­mu­ni­cate with each other with­out fear of be­ing over­heard even in cases where a le­gal war­rant has been ob­tained.

Rudd also urged tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies to do a bet­ter job at pre­vent­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of ma­te­rial that pro­motes ex­trem­ism. She plans to meet with firms Thurs­day about set­ting up an in­dus­try board that would take steps to make the web less use­ful to ex­trem­ists.

Bri­tish po­lice in­ves­ti­gat­ing the at­tack say they still be­lieve Ma­sood, a 52-year-old Bri­ton, acted alone and say they have no in­di­ca­tions that fur­ther at­tacks are planned.

The Is­lamic State group has claimed Ma­sood was a “sol­dier” car­ry­ing out its wishes to at­tack West­ern coun­tries.

Ma­sood had con­vic­tions for vi­o­lent crimes in the U.K. and spent time in prison. He also worked in Saudi Ara­bia teach­ing English for two years and trav­eled there again in 2015 on a visa de­signed for re­li­gious pil­grim­ages.

JOHN STILLWELL / PA

Peo­ple look at trib­utes laid out Satur­day for vic­tims of the West­min­ster at­tack in Lon­don. On Wed­nes­day, Khalid Ma­sood slew four peo­ple and left more than two dozen hos­pi­tal­ized be­fore he was killed.

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