The US Department of Justice is locked in a “prolonged standoff” with WhatsApp over encryption and claimed that their end-to-end encryption tech is being misused by the criminals and terrorists.
If the Apple vs. FBI court case isn’t enough, we might be staring at another mega court battle in the making, this time, it being WhatsApp that the US Department of Justice has found fault with. However, unlike its approach in its dispute with Apple, The Department of Justice is seen to play it cautiously as it seeks cooperation from the popular messaging service provider to help unravel a criminal case.
However, all concerned are maintaining a veil of secrecy over the entire episode with neither the DoJ nor WhatsApp commenting on the issue. The nature of the case isn’t known either, except that it is not related to terrorism, unlike the Apple case which involves an iPhone 5c used by the prime accused in the San Bernardino mass shooting incident.
Facebook, current owners of WhatsApp along with a clutch of other technology companies, have earlier pledged support for Apple in its court fight against the FBI’s efforts to gain access to the particular iPhone which Apple has likened to creating a backdoor to the device. The Cupertino giant also expressed fear that complying once to FBI’s request will almost certainly lead to more such requests from the law enforcement agencies in the future.
Further, a backdoor software in rogue hands can compromise the security of all iPhone 5c, leading to an apocalyptic situation of sorts for the millions of iPhones out in the wild.
As for WhatsApp, complying with the DoJ’s request is impossible in the present scenario in that all of its messages comply with end-to-end encryption technologies. Put in simple terms; even WhatsApp does not have any clue of the messages passing through its servers thanks to new encryption technologies adopted since 2014.
WhatsApp has also stated they plan to bring its voice calls too within the ambit of strong encryption technology. Facebook along with SnapChat has also stated they are evaluating similar security measures for its popular Messenger service as well.
The WhatsApp case is being considered to be of even more significance considering that it could eventually prove the efficacy of wiretapping in the digital age of today. For decades, sleuths the world over have relied on the ‘good old’ wiretapping act to zero in on criminals or to use the evidence collected therein to implicate them in courts. If the DoJ fails to convince WhatsApp, it could prove to be the end of wiretapping.
However, user opinion seems divided on the security vs. privacy issue. While there is no dearth of those willing to stand for privacy at all costs, there are also those who believe too much of security can be boon in disguise to those with a criminal bent of mind.
The issue is also far bigger than is being perceived. With companies like Facebook, Apple or WhatsApp having a pan world presence, the outcome of the case is sure to be felt far and wide. Case in point, the recent arrest of a Facebook executive by authorities in Brazil in a drug trafficking case. Facebook has termed it ‘extreme and disproportionate’.
The security agencies in the US are also worried the enhanced security measures could also be exploited against the very ethos that it stands for – that of promoting free speech without the fear of being eavesdropped at any stage and by anyone. However, with the current trend of criminals or even terror organisations becoming increasingly tech savvy, the same all-encompassing security measures could prove to be a means to wage war against humanity.