Messaging and social media platforms have long been denounced by politicians as channels through which criminals could be either retroactively convicted of their misdoings, or identified before a crime can actually be committed. These potential crimes are usually described in terroristic terms, and any platform that does not make itself available to government access is denounced as an opponent of security, or even an enabler of terrorism.
US Attorney General William Barr, who has recently tightened regulations on family-based asylum seekers and reinstated the death penalty as a federal sentence—explicitly naming five current inmates to be processed into an execution—spoke in July again about the dangers of encrypted messaging. Barr’s warnings and demands reiterated those made in 2016 that Apple instate a back-door to mobile devices that would provide law enforcement access.
Facebook and WhatsApp moving towards concession
Although these demands are not universally agreed upon by other US public servants, Facebook has continued its trend of opening up its data troves to governments (and advertisers) by proposing a bypassed encryption process, in which the messaging platform software includes built-in content moderation and blacklist filtering. Running on each individual’s device, it would give unencrypted access to the content of each message – any claims of encryption would actually just mean the platform company holds sole control over the unencrypted content.
WhatsApp, bought by Facebook in 2014, with a reputation as a secure, end-to-end encrypted client, is hugely undermined by Facebook’s emerging position on this device-based approach to content monitoring. The notion that this accessible mass of personal data would only be used in the interest of national security seems unlikely, as there is a huge incentive for third parties to hack into it, and for the host to monetize it.
Alternative messaging apps
With WhatsApp seemingly (or imminently) compromised, other major viable end-to-end encrypted clients are currently: Viber, which instated end-to-end in 2016; Line, in 2011; and Signal, which was designed to be so from the start.