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Facebook, Google face terrorism crackdown in UK following London attack

WhatsApp Inc. and other similar platforms face a tougher regulatory climate in the U.K. as the country's government has demanded access to encrypted messaging services, following the March 22 terror attack in London.

Britain's Home Secretary Amber Rudd said police and other intelligence authorities should be given access to encrypted messaging systems to prevent terror attacks in the future, London's The Guardian reported March 26.

Rudd's call comes after reports emerged that Adrian Ajao, or Khalid Masood, the suspect in the March 22 terror attacks, had used the Facebook Inc.-owned messaging service a few minutes before he launched his attack outside the British Parliament at Westminster.

Rudd argued it was "completely unacceptable" that WhatsApp was enabling terrorists to communicate "in secret," since they know that law enforcement agencies will not be able to read their encrypted messages, The Sunday Telegraph said in a separate March 26 report.

British police had been unable to access Ajao's messages on WhatsApp due to encryption, and executives at the platform have repeatedly refused requests by MI5, formally known as The Security Service, to decode messages that might be useful in terror probes, The Sun reported March 26, citing sources.

Security services were also reportedly having a hard time dealing with encrypted messages on Telegram, where Islamic State supporters posted a message urging attacks on the U.K. Parliament.

At the same time, Islamic State used the London attack to sign up new members, uploading hundreds of violent recruitment videos on Google Inc.'s YouTube, The Times reported March 27. The Alphabet Inc. unit has so far failed to block extremist videos, which recently prompted the British government and major U.K. brands to pull their ads from YouTube.

Rudd confirmed the U.K. government is considering legislation that will force social media platforms and other websites to remove extremist material, according to The Sunday Telegraph. She noted that tech companies should realize their responsibility in moderating such content.

The plan echoes back to 2015 when, in light of the terror attacks that year in Paris, France, former Prime Minister David Cameron proposed a ban on any encrypted messaging platforms if they refused to cooperate with authorities requesting access to select users' content. The ban was part of proposed new surveillance powers targeting Web businesses and tech companies.

The European Union took a similar approach when its counter-terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, submitted a proposal forcing tech companies to share user data by handing over "encryption keys." The proposal sought to improve "lawful interception" of encrypted communication across the region.

Rudd's latest proposal is drawing flak from digital rights campaigners.

In a March 26 statement, Executive Director Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group said that while tech companies should work with police and intelligence agencies regarding probes into terrorist activities, "compelling companies to put backdoors into encrypted services would make millions of ordinary people less secure online."

British Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn also slammed Rudd's demands, saying spy agencies already had "huge, huge powers of investigation," while Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, noted that the proposal would be "neither a proportionate nor an effective response" to the recent terror attack, The Guardian reported.

Rudd has called WhatsApp, Facebook, Google and other tech companies to a meeting at the Home Office, scheduled for March 30, according to The Sunday Telegraph. She will reportedly use the opportunity to "call time" on extremists "using social media as their platform."

Meanwhile, Uber Technologies Inc. is involved in a separate controversy after the prime minister's office under Cameron was accused of covering up a supposed lobbying operation against a crackdown on the ride-hailing company, Daily Mail reported March 26.

10 Downing Street had reportedly failed to reveal details of the operation, which involved an email exchange between Daniel Korski, then deputy head of the prime minister's policy unit, and an adviser for Boris Johnson, former London mayor and now secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs. In September 2015, Johnson warned of curtailing Uber's activities over fears that it posed a threat to traditional taxis, among other issues.

Opposition members of Parliament, who urged the government to launch an inquiry into the alleged cover-up, also claimed that Rachel Whetstone, Uber's senior vice president of policy and communications, was a personal friend of Cameron and former Chancellor George Osborne, according to the Daily Mail.