US Attorney General William Barr and other Western officials are urging Facebook to provide authorities with secret access to its encrypted messaging platforms used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide every day.
In an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Barr and their British and Australian colleagues will argue that law enforcement requires access to encrypted applications, effectively asking the company to hand over the private communications keys of 300 million daily WhatsApp users. . 1.5 billion people who access Facebook every day. The letter is dated Friday, but an early copy was seen by the New York Times.
"Companies should not deliberately design their systems to prevent any form of access to content, even to prevent or investigate the most serious crimes," wrote the employees.
While Facebook-owned WhatsApp is already protected by end-to-end encryption, the open letter will also ask the company to postpone launching similar features for its other chat platforms, Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct, requesting access similar to a telephone wiretap.
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Authorities argued the request based on fighting crime and terrorism, but privacy advocates warned that the measure could seriously damage or even "destroy" the ability to communicate privately online and empower governments with vast powers of espionage easily abused.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – who leaked classified material about the agency's comprehensive mass surveillance programs in 2013 – criticized authorities for what he said "could be the biggest nightly violation of privacy in the story".
Oh, hey, it turns out it's even worse; it's more than just #Whatsapp, all messages belong to FB: "Attorney General William P. Barr is ready to press @Facebook on Friday to create the so-called backdoor for your end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp *** AND OTHER MESSAGE PLATFORMS *** "
– Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 3, 2019
Any politician who requests backdoor access to your private information is a politician who doesn't give a damn about you or your security.
Vote for anyone asking for it, Republican or Democrat. It is the nuclear weapon of bad ideas. https://t.co/v0UbCjik1C
– Brianna Wu (@BriannaWu) October 3, 2019
Gleen Greenwald of Intercept urged conservatives to "applaud Snowden's revelations" to speak out against the move, which he said was an "attempt to destroy privacy and put unprecedented espionage power in the hands of the government."
Conservatives who claim to value privacy, support a limited role for the government in our lives, and who applauded Snowden's revelations during the Obama years should be more outraged by this attempt to destroy privacy and put unprecedented espionage power in their hands from the government: https://t.co/zKrMb7214k
– Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 3, 2019
The open letter is far from the US Department of Justice's first step against encryption. In July, AG Barr urged technology companies – at one point quoting WhatsApp by name – to erode protections and provide access to law enforcement, comment soon echoed by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who said he shares Barr's "concerns".
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DOJ's obsession with "backward" access to encrypted messaging applications predates Trump administration. Former FBI Director James Comey has defended him on several occasions and tried to force tech giant Apple to unlock the San Bernardino terror suspect's iPhone in 2015, but eventually paid an Israeli company to do so.
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