On October 4th, an open letter signed by representatives of the governments of the US, the UK, and Australia was published to urge Facebook against implementing end-to-end encryption (E2EE). This follows an announcement by the company that it would implement E2EE in all of its messaging apps, notably Messenger and Instagram, and would complement Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp that already utilizes E2EE.
When a message is encrypted over the internet, it is converted into a code that is unreadable without a key. For example, if you were to send the message ‘YES’ over the internet, a key might encode each letter based on a code system that converts the letter ‘Y’ to ‘U’, the letter ‘E’ to ‘R’, and the letter ‘S’ to ‘B’, and would convert the message to ‘URB’. E2EE means that the key is stored on the device that sent the message and the device that receives the message, and cannot be de-encrypted by any outside party along the route to the destination device.
The letter argues against E2EE on the basis of security, claiming that security threats will be encrypted and inaccessible to government interception if this method is implemented. The letter reads that tech companies like Facebook “must find a way to balance the need to secure data with public safety and the need for law enforcement to access the information they need to safeguard the public, investigate crimes, and prevent future criminal activity.”
In a recent Guardian opinion piece in response to the publication of the letter, US Whistleblower Edward Snowden counters that “bad actors […] prefer not to plan their crimes on public platforms, especially not on US-based ones that employ some of the most sophisticated automatic filters and reporting methods available.” He states that the governments the US, UK, and Australia are less concerned with public safety than they are with maintaining control over public information and that E2EE endangers “strictly nations’ ability to spy on populations at mass scale.”
According to the Guardian, a Facebook spokesperson commented on October 3rd that the company opposed “government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere.”