6 April 2016

Here we go again!

whatsappOver the past month-or-so, Apple’s battle with the FBI over a federal order to unlock a killer’s iPhone has been hotly debated to say the least. Even after the FBI dropped the case – because they managed to crack the phone themselves – the issue of privacy remained on everyone’s radar.

Back over on this side of the pond, we’re still reeling from the government’s introduction of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which potentially provides security and intelligence services with powers to gather and access communications data.

So the announcement that instant messaging service WhatsApp has introduced end-to-end encryption to protect its users’ personal communication is quite a bold move. Encryption for a billion users massively overshadows one mobile phone.

The idea is simple. Encrypted messages can only be decrypted by the intended recipient’s device. This makes all communication unreadable if intercepted, whether this is by the FBI, hackers or even WhatsApp themselves.

This move to greater privacy for WhatsApp didn’t come as much of a surprise to me. The Facebook-owned messenger app, which has more than a billion users worldwide, began adding encryption as a default to certain messages over a year ago.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a controversial topic and these changes didn’t go down well with everyone, particularly those who are charged with keeping us safe in the digital age. Following rumours that the service was used to orchestrate the Paris terror attacks, there’s no wonder that people are concerned.

Whilst I understand and totally back the need for National Security and the fight against terrorism, I’m sceptical of blanket access to communications. Safety and privacy are two values I – and I’m sure everyone reading this blog – hold dearly. So why should we be made to give up on either one of these values in a digital world?

It’s a difficult balance to strike and I don’t envy those having to find the solution.

Ultimately, providing access to all our personal data and communications would be nowhere near as secure as we are made to believe. For one thing, how often do we hear of politicians accidentally leaving a laptop, usb drive or a briefcase full of paperwork on the train/bus/taxi? Imagine if they had unlimited access to all of our communications?

As part of the debate, we often hear politicians mention the need for a compromise or balance, advocating for security services to have a backdoor to personal data if and when they need to. Putting a backdoor in removes the point of securing it in the first place! Like having a panic room on lockdown, but with an open window.

It wouldn’t be all that different from me opening my front door to a visitor and never being able to shut it again. My home would no longer be my home. I’d be forever on edge, worrying about the safety of my nearest and dearest and the security of my personal belongings. To put it another way: once a door is open, it is open to anyone – good and bad!

How do you feel about end-to-end encryption – is it necessary?

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