WhatsApp said yesterday (Tuesday) all communications on its network of more than one billion people worldwide would now be protected by end-to-end encryption. TechCrunch reports that in a blog post, WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Action said: “We live in a world where more of our data is digitized than ever before.”
WhatsApp made the decision to install end-to-end encryption against the backdrop of months of legal wrangling between the U.S. Justice Department and Apple over Apple’s own end-to-end encryption. The Justice Department took Apple to court to force the company to relax its encryption protection of two iPhones – one used by the San Bernardino terrorists, the other by a drug kingpin who was sent to jail in New York after a plea agreement.
“And today, we’re proud to announce that we’ve completed a technological development that makes WhatsApp a leader in protecting your private communication: full end-to-end encryption,” Koum and Action wrote.
“No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.”
The company’s end-to-end encryption will protect all text, photo, video and voice communications from eavesdropping. Analysts point out that this means hackers and criminals will be shut out, but so will law enforcement and intelligence services, and even the company itself. This means that the company will not able to comply with court orders to allow law enforcement access to the information stored on the encrypted device.
Leaders of law enforcement agencies were quick to criticize WhatsApp’s move for creating “warrant-proof” spaces for criminals and terrorists.
WhatsApp — and another encrypted messaging application called Telegram — were used by the terrorists who carried out the 13 November Paris attacks which left 130 people dead. The terrorists used their smartphones to communicate with each other — and with others, probably higher-up handlers and fellow cell members — in the run up and during the attacks. The French police, however, has not been able to access the phones in order to learn more about the operational and support network which helped plan and carry out the attacks.
US Congress will soon consider legislation, sponsored by Senators Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Diane Feinstein (D-California) to require technology firms to retain decryption keys which would allow the company to access data if a court issues an order to do so. Britain and France are likely to enact similar measures.