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D'oh! Amber Rudd meant 'understand hashing', not 'hashtags'

Home Sec sends out junior minister to clarify gaffe

By Kat Hall

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It was the cringiest moment in an already gaffe-prone interview on The Andrew Marr Show last week.

Speaking about preventing the upload of objectionable content, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the government needs to get people who "understand the necessary hashtags" talking.

That was of course in addition to Rudd's widely criticised remarks that encryption has no place in citizens' hands, in the wake of revelations that Westminster attacker Khalid Masood was using WhatsApp shortly before murdering pedestrians with his car.

It didn't take a security expert to realise the Home Sec was quite clearly out of her depth, something that would be less worrying if she didn't occupy one of the highest offices in the land.

Anyway, in a Parliamentary response today, the Home Office clarified that Rudd didn't mean hashtags at all.

Sarah Newton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, said Rudd "was referring to image hashing, the process of detecting the recurrence an image or video online" in response to a question from shadow digital minister Louise Haigh.

Newton said: "Hashing has proved effective in the removal of images of child sexual exploitation and has been used by a number of organisations including the Internet Watch Foundation and INTERPOL.

"In December 2016 at the EU IT Forum, Facebook announced the development of a cross-industry shared hashing database to improve the detection and removal of terrorist content online. The implementation of this database will help to clear large caches of known terrorist content from a range of online platforms."

Haigh also asked what assessment has been conducted of the consequences for (a) the UK economy and (b) national security of banning end-to-end encryption?

This time minister of state for Security at the Home Office, Ben Wallace responded.

He said: "The government is keen to ensure that the correct balance is struck between protecting information online and the need for our police and intelligence agencies to read, subject to appropriate authorisation, encrypted messages of those who plan and commit terrorist attacks and serious crimes when it is both necessary and proportionate to do so.

"We continue to work with all those with an interest in this issue, from law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies to communications service providers."

He said the government was already working with tech companies to find a solution "that both permits law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies to get the information they need, whilst also protecting privacy."

"Last week's attack has highlighted the need for a proper public debate on this issue. The government will be working with internet companies to ensure they fulfil their moral and social responsibility to help our police and security services to keep us all safe."

So absolutely nothing to worry about, then... ®

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