Amber Rudd has arrived in Silicon Valley to a rather patronising tone from the tech media.
The headline in IT online magazine The Register reads “Look Out Silicon Valley, here comes bruiser Amber Rudd to lay down the (cyber law)” and concludes that “the reality is that a UK government minister – even the Home Secretary – carries little weight in California”.
Her mission is a sober and serious one – to frustrate terrorist use of the internet.
But some of the whiz kids at Silicon Valley are still sniggering about the fact that the UK Home Secretary didn’t seem to know the difference between a “hashtag” and “hashing”. (Hashtags are used on twitter. Hashing is a way for computers to identify identical files or images, allowing unwanted material to be automatically reported.)
Mrs Rudd got this wrong in a recent BBC interview.
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In general, the sector recognises the need to combat the proliferation of terrorist content on their platforms.
It’s bad for business if jihadi material appears alongside their advertising content.
But Mrs Rudd faces an uphill task persuading this bad-boy industry to self-regulate – and in particular to change its encryption methods to allow more state snooping.
The Home Secretary is right that online platforms are used by terrorists “to inspire and plan” attacks.
In that respect they are like any organisation – they recognise the huge potential of the internet for advertising and communication.
Mrs Rudd believes some applications offer “a safe space” for terrorists.
There is frustration, for example, that the British security services cannot unscramble intercepted messages sent on WhatsApp.
Khalid Masood used WhatsApp shortly before he attacked pedestrians with his vehicle on Westminster Bridge in March this year.
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This may be a moot point because he wasn’t under surveillance at the time, but in other circumstances if the police had access to his communications they may have been able to intervene.
WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, which means security services can only see the messages if they gain direct or remote access to the device.
Mrs Rudd believes the secure nature of this application is more useful to terrorists than anyone else. It is an easy to use method of plotting without detection.
The Home Secretary argues that “real people don’t need that level of protection.” US Tech companies think they do.
That’s why they developed products where even the government or indeed the company itself can’t spy on customers.
Mrs Rudd has a tricky task persuading them otherwise, as much of this comes in the wake of Edward Snowden’s controversial revelations about the US governments surveillance programmes.
The Home Office has confirmed that Mrs Rudd will be meeting with Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and WhatsApp.
She will tell them how a specialist unit in the UK has removed 280,000 pieces of terrorist content since 2010, but that the industry needs to do more, and demonstrate that it is actively tackling the problem.
But in some ways it is like going to a garage to tell a group of mechanics that they haven’t done a proper service on your car.
The tech giants will only do what they think they can get away with – and ultimately what they think needs doing.