End-to-end encryption, which tech companies implement in their products and services to keep them safe and secure for their users, are a constant target of certain segments of law enforcement apparatuses in various countries.
This time it was the turn of UK’s anti-terrorist “cyber police” chief Kevin Southworth to express his concern that Facebook’s plans to extend encryption from the messaging app WhatsApp to Instagram and Facebook Messenger could be “putting lives at risk.”
Southworth is particularly concerned that behemoths like Facebook with billions of users might suddenly become protected in this way, and less so with “niche” apps. For now.
The idea here isn’t that the police and other agencies won’t be able to do their job unless they have full cooperation of tech giants, providing them access to user data – but that their jobs would be made harder.
And as this thinking goes, in order to make life easier for them – privacy and safety from spying and hacker attacks of billions of people around the world should be undermined.
That is not how Southworth is putting it, of course; as is virtually always the case, terrorism, child abuse and other horrors are conjured up to support the case against what he calls “strong” encryption.
What he means is true, end-to-end encryption, where only the sender and the recipient have access to messages and other content, ruling out any third party actors, including governments and companies that host these networks.
So if “strong” encryption is bad, then what constitutes for the “soft” kind? Apparently, it’s not building in backdoors, because even the UK police seem to understand that they can eventually be cracked and abused by anybody. Paying lip service to privacy concerns, Southworth added that the goal is “being able to specifically target those who are doing serious crime in the closed space in social media.”
No more details were given about how this might work, other than perhaps by enlisting companies to voluntarily break their own encryption when such a demand is made? If so, that could easily turn into a slippery slope of overreach and government abuse.
For now, Facebook is holding its ground. “Strong encryption is essential to keep everyone safe from hackers and criminals. Governments rightly want to protect people from criminals and we believe weakening encryption would make everyone less safe, not more,” the company reiterated on Saturday.