Amber Rudd's war on tech is over

Hopefully Sajid Javid knows his way around more than WhatsApp

Amber Rudd, champion of the IT illiterate, is the first to fall from office in the wake of the Windrush revelations, arguably the worst scandal to emerge during Theresa May's tenure as prime minister.

In her resignation letter today, Rudd said she "inadvertently misled" MPs during testimony in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, when she claimed that the government had no targets for the removal of immigrants.

That claim, it turned out, was false, as a letter uncovered from January last year showed that Rudd had knowledge of "ambitious but deliverable" targets on forced deportation.

The reason for her departure is somewhat consistent with her attitudes towards office. Here we had a home secretary who wasn't averse to controversial comments and was overly eager to speak on matters about which she was clearly poorly informed. For the UK's tech industry in particular, she represented the kind of knee-jerk reaction politics that needed quick solutions regardless of the logic - to be seen as doing something, anything, immediately.

Rudd appeared to be in a constant state of bewilderment of technology. Not the 'appears inept but likely quite capable' act that Boris Johnson arguably maintains, but more of a complete disconnect from reality.

Her suggestion that the use of end-to-end encryption in WhatsApp was "completely unacceptable" would have been laughable if it wasn't so depressing - as if the idea that users keeping their data secure from companies is a terrible thing. Her belief that encryption should be undermined by backdoors so that governments could access such data naturally drew the ire of the tech sector, who regarded her attitude as "completely misguided" and potentially dangerous for UK security.

To be absolutely fair, I get why she said it. After all, her statement was in response to her discovery that WhatsApp, a tool reportedly used by terrorists to coordinate the Westminster attack last year, featured encryption and therefore wasn't able to snoop on the chats. The government needed to be seen to be taking action, to target public anger towards something tangible.

Yet her comments single-handedly undermined years of campaigning by digital rights groups to secure greater protections for user data. Not only did this alienate the tech industry, but her follow-up suggestion that "real people" don't care about encryption highlighted her willful ignorance, and served a backhanded compliment to the rest of the population.

Worst of all, her actions speak to the lack of tech expertise in government today, despite it being one of the fastest growing sectors of the UK economy. Politicians are more than willing to take credit for growth and job creation within the industry, but, when it comes to social policy, it's normally the first to be thrown under the bus.

Hopefully the new home secretary, Sajid Javid, will learn from Rudd's mistakes - he's certainly demonstrated his commitment to supporting digital transformation and tech initiatives in the past, so that's something.

Apparently, he also uses WhatsApp, with Take Hart's clay mascot Morph as his profile picture. Sounds like a fun guy.

Picture: Bigstock

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