By Gilbert Alasa
For well over a month now, one of the biggest battles to have coloured Silicon Valley was Apple’s logjam with the FBI, following a federal order mandating the tech giant to unlock the iPhone of a mass shooter. And like most people anticipated, Apple refused to do FBI’s bidding, citing possible privacy infringements.
But this week, the world woke up to a new story altogether. At a small office in Mountain View, California, three tech guys rose to the occasion to neutralise that privacy debate. The trio of Jack Koum, Brian Acton and a high-minded cryptographer Moxie Marlinspike broke the news that WhatsApp had added end-to-end encryption to every single communication on the platform.
That means that if any group of people uses the latest version of the application, WhatsApp will encrypt all photos, conversations, videos and phone calls exchanged by the users. With this, not even WhatsApp or its staff can read the data and messages that are exchanged on the service.
“With end-to-end encryption in place, not even WhatsApp or its employees can read the data that is sent across its network. In other words, WhatsApp has no way of complying with a court order demanding access to the content of any message, phone call, photo or video travelling through its service.” Wired’s Cade Metz writes.
With what many have described as “stonewalling” federal authorities, Acton feels users’ privacy to their content supersedes law enforcement.
“Building secure products actually make for a safer world, though many people in law enforcement may not agree with that,” says WhatsApp co-founder Acton.
He explains that with encryption, anyone can go about their regular businesses and hold conversations on the platform without someone eavesdropping. Again, this is a reminder that encryption technology is not likely to be held in check by desperate regulators, no matter their intentions.
Since the announcement was made, FBI authorities have declined to comment on the development, but there are strong indications that the authorities would likely take issues with the company’s move.
While users of the popular messaging service may be excited about the privacy possibilities of the new move by WhatsApp, conflict with law enforcement agents remains the resulting headache. There are arguments that this move would create a safe haven for criminals who form part of the one billion users on the messaging platform.
But WhatsApp thinks users of digital platforms have been too vulnerable to privacy infringements that put them at risk of attacks and violations.
“We live in a world where more of our data is digitised than ever before. Every day, we see stories of sensitive records being improperly accessed or stolen. And if nothing is done, more of people’s digital information and communication will be vulnerable to attacks in the years to come,” it said in a blog post announcing the move.
By Gilbert Alasa