There are many things the web giants could do to help combat terrorism, but weakening privacy protection is not one of them
The home secretary has made a hash – or what she would call “a hashtag” – of her efforts to appear to be doing something in the wake of last week’s Westminster terror attack. Amber Rudd’s demand that the big digital companies weaken the encryption they use on their messages is unrealistic and – if it ever became real – self-defeating. It is unrealistic because encryption cannot be selectively weakened, any more than the value of pi could be stipulated as 3.2 for the state of Indiana alone as proposed by some proto-Rudd politician in 1897. Mathematics is universal, and the mathematics on which strong encryption depends is quite as inflexible as that which specifies Earth’s orbit round the sun. If the encryption on terrorists’ messages were weakened so that the government could read them, the same weakening would apply to everyone else, however innocent. If the government believes it can prevail upon the likes of Facebook (which owns WhatsApp) to issue a specially weakened version of the program to British users only, it is being even more fatuously optimistic than in its approach to the Brexit negotiations. No company would sacrifice its reputation (and so its market share) in such a way, and real criminals could always find alternatives.
Even if these powers were delivered by some miracle to our government and to no other they would still prove self-defeating. Terrorists and their active sympathisers form a tiny minority of any community. Their criminal messages and phone calls to each other form an infinitesimal fraction of all the chat and gossip on the internet. To find them at the moment is like searching for a needle in a haystack. The task won’t be made easier by dumping another haystack full of chaff on to the needle, which would be the effect of Ms Rudd’s proposal if it were ever practicable. The more thoughtful members of the security community know this already. The power that they really need, which is to know all about the friendship networks of suspected terrorists, is one they already have. What’s known as “metadata” tells them everything about a message except its content, and this is extraordinarily revealing. But the government has its own reasons for pursuing a noisy attack on the internet companies.
Paying for war | European unity | Alcohol units | Scandinavian happiness | Gay relationships | The word anent
Emma Laughton (Letters, 27 March) makes the mistake of including the costs of policing society with the costs of maintaining a military able to invade other nations. The internal policing of a society is an essential part of monitoring its many institutions. The defence of those institutions from external interference is also necessary. Expansionist aggression against other societies and the destruction of their institutions (as in Iraq) is not acceptable. It is this latter aspect that I do not want my taxes to support and which Mark Rylance (Opinion, 23 March) is very correct about.
Robin Le Mare
With an erratic US president and an array of potential flashpoints, understanding China’s unprecedented domestic experiment is more crucial than ever
When the two most powerful men on earth, Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, meet for the summit that’s expected to take place soon in the American emperor’s summer palace, they will have one thing in common: each is testing his country’s political system to its limits.
With independent courts blocking Trump’s travel ban, the heads of his security agencies flatly contradicting his claim that Barack Obama tapped his phones, and Congress rejecting his flagship repeal of Obamacare, the checks and balances of the world’s oldest liberal democracy are at full stretch. But will even they be enough to restrain this erratic, narcissistic, egomaniac bully?
It’s a question even liberals can find themselves asking after attacks such as the one in Westminster. But the answer can’t be yes – and here’s why
Since the Westminster attacks, many people seem to have been getting stuck on the following question, as they do after most acts of jihadi violence: “Is there something special about Islam? Something that lends itself to terrorism?”
I’m not just talking about the Katie Hopkinses of this world (they have already decided to privilege gut feeling over actually finding out, so this piece isn’t really for them). Or even the Roger Scrutons: on Radio 4’s Start the Week on Monday, he said: “We do need to have a discussion about the Qur’an … how do we deal with those difficult suras [chapters] which are full of these tetchy pronouncements.” It sits at the back of progressives’ minds too, the kind of people who think it’s not good to generalise, and that there are definitely lots of nice Muslims, but still …
After the writer Ariel Levy wrote about losing her baby she was attacked for her ‘privilege and entitlement’ – as if miscarriage wasn’t something to be sad about. Plus: retro florals – fashion’s current in-joke
Why are women so mean to each other?
David, by email
The idea that people with learning disabilities should earn less than the minimum wage would be a huge step backwards in our fight for equality
Earlier this month, campaigner Rosa Monckton wrote in the Spectator that it should be possible for employers to pay people with learning disabilities less than the minimum wage. When I read this, I was furious. People with a learning disability already struggle to be treated equally to everyone else. Surely the idea that we could earn less than the minimum wage would add to our problems?
I have a learning disability and have had a full-time job for 16 years. My work is very important to me, in all sorts of ways, not least because I enjoy it. It has increased my confidence, I feel valued and am treated as equal to all my colleagues. As well as this, I earn a wage. Having my own money means I can support my wife and three children, pay my bills and live my life as I want to on a day-to-day basis. I can also challenge a lot of what the public may think is possible for a person with a learning disability.
The number of nurses signing up to work in the UK has dropped dramatically. Is it any wonder when Theresa May’s government is so hostile to EU nationals?
How will Brexit impact the NHS? It already has. Nurses from the EU are much less keen to come and work here. Today the Times reported that in the last four months of 2015, an average of 797 EU nurses per month signed up to work in the UK; over the same period last year, that number fell to 194 a month. We currently have a huge shortage of nurses, with 24,000 jobs unfilled in England alone.
Through the ages, pleasure-seeking has been associated with civil disobedience. We should ignite the carnival spirit to bring about change in society
Heard about “blackout culture” ? It’s sweeping across America’s universities and it’s lethal. Students down cocktails of alcohol with the singular aim of passing out. Nearly 2,000 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related injuries each year, and there are increasing calls for college authorities to stamp out binge drinking.
No wonder hedonism has a bad name. For many people, it’s nothing more than a byword for immoral and irresponsible self-indulgence, evoking the heroin overdoses and drunken rampages made infamous by films such as Trainspotting.
Music lessons have become increasingly harder to access in schools. To enable more children to learn, we must stop teaching in such an academic way
Music education is deteriorating around the country. Despite the enormous contribution of the music industry to the UK economy, with the creative industries overall estimated to generate £85bn net a year to GDP, , the government remains placid about its importance in schools. The Conservatives are too focused on the English baccalaureate, introduced to boost the number of students studying science and languages, to care.
This is a great shame, as research has shown the huge benefits that music brings to children’s happiness and learning. Interestingly, the government does care about psychological development in schools, and recently announced plans to trial mental health training for pupils, but it has not dawned on politicians that this, and more, can be achieved through the arts.