Why you should care about encryption


For the longest time we've been told to protect our pins and regularly change our passwords. Yet, over the weekend Home Secretary Amber Rudd suggested that messaging services such as WhatsApp weaken their security, to allow law enforcement bodies to access messages. Rudd makes a very valid argument; nobody wants WhatsApp to be a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other, but we need to look at the bigger picture.

WhatsApp introduced end-to-end encryption back in April 2016. This means that if I send a message to you via WhatsApp, nobody but you and I know the content. WhatsApp will see that a communication was sent from my phone to yours, but they cannot read the content. The message itself is not accessible to anyone else because of this encryption.

Having this feature means WhatsApp is a secure way to communicate with friends, family and colleagues. Rudd is suggesting that WhatsApp creates a loophole that will give policing bodies access to those messages, in the fight against terrorism. 

Unfortunately creating a loophole for bad guys is not that simple. For WhatsApp to enable this type of loophole, it would have to recode its app, changing the security for all of us.

If this loophole is accessible for law enforcement, you can bet it would be accessible to hackers or anyone looking to snoop in on your personal communications.  

The debate arises once the issues are put into stark terms; what's more important, your privacy or fighting terror? This is how the governing bodies are looking at it right now. It's one or the other. 

What's frustrating is that terrorists will still find a way to communicate, but will we find another way to converse? 

We saw the people of London carry on with their daily business following the horrific attack in their city last week. The government made a point of sitting the next morning, showing that they will not be stopped by terrorism. Surely the same attitude should apply to our access to messaging platforms? Why punish the many for the acts of the few? 

Why you should care

Some may question why we should care about encryption or even give this issue any headspace. I would argue that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I would bet that allowing policing bodies to access content such as WhatsApp messages would also be granting hackers and those looking to snoop access too. 

Encryption is needed and matters because it protects us. Banking institutions, airlines and governments all use it. There is a reason for that. If encryption is removed from messaging apps, what is to stop bodies monitoring daily activities of normal citizens? How long would it be before that information is accessed by brands, looking to monetise it?

Look at how Google can use your recent searches to deliver personalised ads. What sort of advertising would you see if the same technology was applied to your WhatsApp chats? 

Surely in the incredibly important fight against terror, WhatsApp is simply a cog in the wheel and dismantling it would do more harm than good.

Jessica Kelly, Newstalk.com 

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