Westminster Attack: Is more surveillance the answer?

Westminster Attack: Is more surveillance the answer?


Last month, London bore witness to horrific scenes on Westminster Bridge when a 4×4 vehicle travelling at over 50 mph mounted the pavement mowing down around 40 pedestrians, tourists and Londoners alike, and killing two.

The ‘lone wolf’ assailant then ran from the car towards the Palace of Westminster before he was detained by two police officers, one of whom he stabbed before he was shot dead at the scene by police. The police officer, PC Keith Palmer, died later from his injuries.

Despite the extensive surveillance and intelligence systems in place, this solitary attack, using everyday items as weapons, was able to slip through the net. The question remains as to how to prevent this style of attack and whether it can be prevented or should simply be accepted as a risk of modern city living.

Global messaging service WhatsApp, from which the offender had sent several messages shortly before the incident, was reportedly working with police to attempt to hack its own end-to-end encryption. However, designed to rigorously protect the privacy of its over one billion users, it was unable to do so.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show has since called for police and intelligence agencies to be given access to messaging services like WhatsApp to thwart future ‘terror’ attacks adding that “there should be no place for terrorists to hide”.  

It emerged after the attack that the assailant, Khalid Masood, had been on the radar of intelligent services for potential links to extremism in 2010 following his return from Saudi Arabia.  

Rudd refused to rule out the passing of new legislation to tackle encrypted messaging and the publishing on extremist content online if companies did not comply voluntarily.

Critics, however, have questioned the need for the powers that Rudd is demanding as well as the practicality of enforcing UK legislation to curb the activities of companies based mainly in the US.  


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