Amber Rudd is unfit to regulate technology

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

It’s not often I make a statement as bald as the one in the headline of this post, but this is appalling:

Asked by a party member whether members of her government actually understood how encryption worked and the difficulties in forcing a change on global tech giants who owned the platforms like Facebook and Google, Rudd replied: “I don’t need to understand how encryption works to understand how it’s helping, end-to-end encryption, the criminals.”

She said it was easy to “patronise” her colleagues when it came to their understanding of end-to-end encryption: “We will do our best to understand it.”

If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that we simply can’t let politicians (or journalists) get away with dismissing their lack of understanding of technology like this.

Just imagine:

  • “I don’t need to understand how the health service works”.
  • “I don’t need to understand how taxation works”.
  • “I don’t need to know how motorways work”.

We wouldn’t let politicians get away with those statements, and we shouldn’t let Rudd get away with this. Encryption is a fundamental part of modern communication technologies, and if she can’t understand it she should not be in charge of regulating it.

Her lack of understanding makes it clear why so many of the proposals around regulating encryption are unworkable. Once encryption is broken with a backdoor in the way she suggests, that backdoor is no longer just available to governments with good intent. That door is open to bad actors, too. And we should be troubled by that in the current climate.

To take pride in her lack of understanding is utterly unacceptable.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.