This article originally appeared on VICE UK
David Cameron has made possibly the worst play in history if he's still hoping to hook in some of that cool youth vote: He's threatened to ban every young person's two primary junk photo communication tools, Snapchat and WhatsApp.
In a statement made yesterday, Cameron said that—should he somehow figure out a way to lead the country for a second term—he would crack down on forms of communication that cannot be read by security services even if they have a warrant. That means encrypted services like Telegram, Apple iMessage, FaceTime, all those massive WhatsApp groups you're in where everyone is planning a big awful holiday, and your primary form of watching videos that aren't quite funny enough for Vine: Snapchat.
"Are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn't possible to read?" he said yesterday. "My answer to that question is: 'No, we must not.'"
Cameron's main concern—and the news hook on which he hung this policy, in a very "let's push this thing we've been planning for a while through while everyone is getting sweaty-palmed over free speech" sort of way—were the attacks in Paris last week, in which the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked by extremists before a hostage situation in a nearby kosher supermarket led to four civilian deaths.
He argued that apps such as WhatsApp were being used by terror cells to plan their attacks, and stressed the need for secret services and the police to be given greater access to private communications. "The attacks in Paris demonstrated the scale of the threat that we face," he said, "and the need to have robust powers through our intelligence and security agencies in order to keep our people safe."
And yes, terrorists do use WhatsApp to make plans. But so do you. So does your mom. So do about 417 million people worldwide. So does my cousin, and he is the kind of throwback dude who spends most of his time looking at snakes and being angry at the concept of cities.
Encryption isn't just important when it comes to keeping your dick-pics or your terror plans safe and secure; it also stops people yanking your credit card details when you buy something online, or having your bank details ripped off wholesale with the kind of digital skills last thought of as cutting edge in the film Hackers. So when David Cameron is making a weak-punch swing at encryption, he's exposing the UK to more than just the threat of an isolated terrorist attack: he's having a massive pop at personal privacy, too. And he's doing it literally hours after traveling to Paris proclaiming the importance of freedom of speech.
And most of all, he's swinging at the fly of terror with the wrong rolled-up newspaper. Think about it: There are other forms of communication beyond WhatsApp. There are carrier pigeons, for example. Handwritten letters. And, encryption or not, there's nothing really stopping a terror cell WhatsApping the message, "Fancy popping down to 16 Handles, pals?" and setting their plans into motion—with their mouths, using unencrypted human sounds—over frozen yogurt.
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