December 11, 2019

Article at The Inquirer

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Facebook tells the US, UK and Australia that it won't be breaking chat encryption

Facebook tells the US, UK and Australia that it won't be breaking chat encryption
Keep smiling, fella. All your secrets are safe for now.

BACK IN OCTOBER, the US, UK and Australian governments sent a strongly-worded letter to Facebook. It essentially was a retreading the tired old arguments about end-to-end encryption: that it lets baddies discuss diabolical schemes in private, in a way they could never do with, say, a room with a lockable door.

Facebook has finally responded and, in a manner that doesn't say too much about the firm's grip on privacy and security, it's mysteriously leaked to The Verge.

Anyway, the verdict is pretty clear: Facebook won't be weakening encryption, and governments can go whistle. "It is simply impossible to create such a backdoor for one purpose and not expect others to try and open it," the letter - written by WhatsApp's Will Cathcart and Messenger's Stan Chudnovsky.

"People's private messages would be less secure and the real winners would be anyone seeking to take advantage of that weakened security. That is not something we are prepared to do."

The letter also calls backdoor access "a gift to criminals, hackers and repressive regimes," which is all true, but it's not like this argument hasn't been prosecuted several times over at this point. It's almost like governments are more keen on strong posturing than actually listening to the technical challenges involved.

"That doesn't mean that we cannot help law enforcement," the letter continues. "We can and we do, as long as it is consistent with the law and does not undermine the safety of our users. You make strong points on this in your letter and we recognise the potential consequences end-to-end encryption can have on the critical work of the law enforcement officers you lead."

Even though there weren't any explicit mentions of encryption in the General Election manifestos, it would be astonishing if this was the last word on the matter. Expect to see this argument bounce band and forth with all the nuance of a sixth form debate club really getting stuck in to the relative merits of capitalism and communism. µ

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