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WhatsApp, iMessage face ban in terror crackdown

The British Prime Minister has unveiled security measures that could see apps like WhatsApp and iMessage banned, as Europe seeks to ramp up Internet surveillance following last week's terror attacks in Paris.

Following a security meeting on Monday, David Cameron announced plans to combat terrorism by banning online apps that the police cannot read. These could include Snapchat, where messages disappear after they have been read, and those where data is encrypted, such as Apple's iMessage and FaceTime.

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"The attacks in Paris once again demonstrated the scale of the terrorist threat that we face and the need to have robust powers through our intelligence and security services and policing to keep our people safe," said Cameron in a speech at an event in Nottingham, England.

"The next government will have to legislate again (on counter-terrorism efforts) in 2016. What I can say is, if I am Prime Minster, I will make sure we do not allow terrorists safe space to communicate with each other."

Ernest Hilbert, the EMEA head of cyber practise at corporate investigations and risk consultancy Kroll, said it would be impractical for the U.K. government—or any other—to wholesale ban encrypted apps. However, he said the government could legislate for the right to break into those that provided no "back door" means for police or intelligence to garner data from them.

"There is no way that any government—be it U.K., U.S. or Russia—is going to accept that there are types of apps out there that they have no access to," Hilbert told CNBC Tuesday. "There is no encryption that cannot be broken with enough time, energy, effort and resources."

Apple was not immediately available for comment. It states on its website: "Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a 'back door' in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed any government access to our servers. And we never will."

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Islamic extremists

Cameron's comments marked the latest in a string of efforts by governments across the world to step up security measures after Islamic extremists last week killed 12 people at the Paris offices of satirical newspaper "Charlie Hebdo." Separate attackers also killed another police officer and four hostages seized at a Jewish grocery.

After attending a meeting with world leaders on Sunday in Paris, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that President Barack Obama would host a security summit in Washington on February 18 to discuss terrorism.

Demonstrators gather in Place de la Republique prior to a mass unity rally to be held in Paris following the recent terrorist attacks.
Christopher Furlong | Getty Images
Demonstrators gather in Place de la Republique prior to a mass unity rally to be held in Paris following the recent terrorist attacks.

Emergency decree

Last Thursday, French authorities filed a decree to the European Commission declaring emergency measures to block websites deemed to breech laws by inciting terrorism.

"The decree sets out the procedure whereby Internet users may be prevented from accessing…websites inciting or condoning acts of terrorism," said the filing on the European Commission website.

Grounds for declaring a state of emergency included "the increase in reported phenomena of radicalization via Internet usage."

Internet partnership

On Sunday, European leaders, along with representatives from the U.S. and Canada, agreed to create a partnership with Internet providers to report and remove online material associated with extremism.

"We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence, and signal our determination to ensure that the Internet is not abused to this end," the officials said in a joint statement.

"With this in mind, the partnership of the major Internet providers is essential to create the conditions of a swift reporting of material that aims to incite hatred and terror and the condition of its removing, where appropriate/possible."

Signs with the words 'Je Suis Charlie' (I am Charlie) adorn the plinth of the statue of Marianne at the Place de la Republique, on January 11, 2015 in Paris, prior to the start of a huge march.
Joel Saget | Staff | Getty Images
Signs with the words 'Je Suis Charlie' (I am Charlie) adorn the plinth of the statue of Marianne at the Place de la Republique, on January 11, 2015 in Paris, prior to the start of a huge march.

'French Patriot Act'

Back in December 2013, the French Parliament voted for the "Loi de Programmation Militaire," a law that gave the government new surveillance powers and has been described as the "French Patriot Act." This is a reference to the U.S.'s Patriot Act that was introduced following the terror attacks of September 2001 to enhance laws to obstruct terrorism.

The French law allows authorities to request all information relating to service users and the location of devices from Internet-service providers, hosting-service providers and telecoms companies. It also includes the right for the government to use geo-location data for purposes other than fighting terrorism.

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Correction: This article has been edited to reflect that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder attended a meeting with world leaders on Sunday in Paris, France.