March 28, 2017 12:09 pm
Updated: March 28, 2017 1:17 pm

Microsoft handed over email data to UK authorities after London attack

WATCH ABOVE: British investigators say Khalid Masood used an encrypted messaging app minutes before carrying out an attack near the British parliament. Now, intelligence agency wants WhatsApp to provide the information from that chat. Reid Fiest reports.


Microsoft revealed Monday it gave British authorities email information relating to last week’s deadly attack outside the U.K. Parliament in London.

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Though the tech giant did not disclose how much, or what kind of information was provided, Microsoft admitted it took swift action to comply with the request, responding to authorities within 30 minutes.

“Our team responded in under 30 minutes last week to verify that the legal order was valid and provided law enforcement the information that was sought,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a statement published to the company’s website. “Our global team is on call 24/7 and responds when it receives a proper and lawful order.”

READ MORE: London attacker sent encrypted WhatsApp messages before attack, now the gov’t wants to read it

The revelation comes on the heels of British interior minister Amber Rudd’s calls for technology companies to cooperate with law enforcement agencies to provide data related to investigations, suggesting that tech companies should stop offering “secret places for terrorists to communicate” using encrypted messages.

Local media have reported that British-born Khalid Masood sent an encrypted message via WhatsApp moments before killing four people by ploughing his car into pedestrians and fatally stabbing a policeman as he tried to get into parliament.

WATCH: Full coverage of the London Attack

Facebook-owned WhatsApp began offering end-to-end encryption for all of its users in April, which means any messages sent through the app are scrambled into complicated code that no one can decode – not WhatsApp, your Internet provider, or international authorities like the FBI.  In other words, the only person who can read those messages is the sender and the recipient.

“It is completely unacceptable, there should be no place for terrorists to hide. We need to make sure organizations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other,” Rudd argued.

But the issue of bypassing encryption has sparked massive debate between government agencies and tech companies in the past.

READ MORE: Why the FBI can’t hack an iPhone without help from Apple

In February 2016, Apple famously denied the FBI’s request to hack an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters, expressing concerns that it would create a so-called backdoor into the iPhone and jeopardize the privacy and security of all iPhone users.

Meanwhile, Microsoft said it’s decision to hand over email data related to the London attack is “different from helping a government outside the rule of law to turn over private information or hack or attack a customer, which we’ve said clearly we will not do.”

“We’re committed both to protecting public safety and safeguarding personal privacy, and we believe that proper legal process is the key to striking this balance,” Smith said.

Can law enforcement agencies legally access data on your smartphone here in Canada?

When it comes to the legalities of this question in Canada, there are two important court rulings we must look at.

In June 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that police need a search warrant to get information from Internet service providers (ISPs) about their subscribers’ identities when they are under investigation.

According to the ruling, a warrant is needed in all but a few very specific circumstances.

  1. If there are exigent circumstances, such as where the information is required to prevent imminent bodily harm.
  2. If there is a reasonable law authorizing access.
  3. If the information being sought does not raise a reasonable expectation of privacy.

READ MORE: Can law enforcement legally access data on your smartphone in Canada?

In a separate ruling, in December 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada said that police can conduct a limited search of a suspect’s cellphone without getting a search warrant, but they must follow strict rules.

The court said in a precedent-setting ruling that the search must be directly related to the circumstances of a person’s arrest and the police must keep detailed records of the search.

Here are the conditions police must meet to search a cellphone during an arrest without a warrant:

  1. The arrest must be lawful – This is the case for any situation; it just means if the arrest isn’t lawful, then neither is the search.
  2. The search must be incidental to the arrest and police need an “objectively reasonable” reason to conduct the search. These include: protecting police/the accused/the public; preserving evidence; discovering evidence such as finding more suspects.
  3. The nature and extent of the search are tailored to the purpose of the search. This means police activity on the phone must be directly linked to the purpose they give.
  4. Police must take detailed notes of what they looked at on the device as well as how it was searched (e.g. which applications or programs they looked at, the extent of search, the time of search, its purpose and duration)

The ruling stated it’s best that police wait to get a search warrant for the cellphone in order to protect privacy. Authorities would need one of the three purposes above (protecting police or the public, preserving evidence or discovering evidence) to proceed without a warrant.

Whether a phone is password-protected is not a determining factor, according to the ruling.

A suspect has the right to remain silent during an arrest and not give their password but police are able to take the phone and try to unlock it.

When asked to comment on Rudd’s suggestion that U.K. authorities have access to encrypted messaging apps, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said he welcomes public debate on emerging technologies and privacy rights.

“Minister Goodale encourages and welcomes public debate on these important issues. Canadians need to reflect on this new and emerging area of law, privacy and crime prevention,” a spokesperson told Global National reporter Reid Fiest.

“The government is constantly updating its policies and tools because of ever-changing technologies. Public Safety, the RCMP, academics and others continue to study these complicated questions.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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