Even as Apple’s battle with Federal agencies over privacy has given rise to much debate, online messaging app, WhatsApp has announced that it has implemented end-to-end encryption for all messages that use the network, Wired.com reported.
Apple had refused to unlock the iPhone of a shooter responsible for an attack that killed 14 and maimed 22. Now, WhatsApp has implemented a system that even it would not be able to break in. These two companies have taken a stance that they would not comply with demands of the government to tamper with the privacy of its consumers.
The end-to-end encryption was implemented by founders of WhatsApp, Brian Acton and Jan Koum, together with a coder and cryptographer, who go by the pseudonym Moxie Marlinspike. With end-to-end encryption, even the company would not be able to read the data that is sent across its network, even it wanted to. In other words, the company would not be able to comply with a government demand, as in the case of Apple, requiring it to decrypt messages, calls, videos etc sent through the network.
The philosophy behind the move is that using encryption; anyone can conduct their business without being afraid about eavesdroppers. The fact that the app is being used by about a billion people in various platforms means that messages that they send from their devices would now be opaque to preening eyes of security staff or hackers. They feel that government cannot be trusted because one never knows when it can change its colours.
While there are so many provisions for consumers to protect their rights in the US, in many nations, a loophole can be disastrous for the consumer.
While companies such as Apple and WhatsApp do not want the government to hack into the account of a user, even if that person is deemed to be a terrorist, the government also has its side of the story to tell. According to Joseph DeMarco, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in cybercrime and has represented various law enforcement agencies backing the Justice Department and the FBI in their battle with Apple, said, “The government doesn’t want to stop encryption, but the question is: what do you do when a company creates an encryption system that makes it impossible for court-authorized search warrants to be executed? What is the reasonable level of assistance you should ask from that company?”
Acton and Koum started adding encryption to WhatsApp back in 2013 and then redoubled their efforts in 2014 after they were contacted by Marlinspike. With the new move, they have taken encryption to the masses. The firm‘s new owner, Facebook also seems to support the moves of the company. However, the idea was not prompted by Facebook; by the time Facebook paid billions of dollars for the company, the transformation was already under way.
In the ongoing debate on whether to protect the privacy of a consumer under any circumstances or to allow law enforcement agents access to a suspect’s details, there were suggestions that companies such as WhatsApp could introduce a backdoor.
However, the firm is against a backdoor because it would negate all efforts made for encryption. Marlinspike says, “Now, more and more of our communication is done over communication networks rather than face-to-face or other traditionally private means of communicating. Even written correspondence wasn’t subject to mass surveillance the way that electronic communication is today…There was a middle period where the government had a broad ability to [peep], but if you look at human history in total, people evolved and civilizations evolved with private conversations and private speech. If anything, we’re bringing that back to individuals.”