• The US and six of its allies issued a joint statement last week calling on tech companies to weaken encryption and make it easier for law enforcement to access people’s private messages.
  • The UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Japan joined US Attorney General William Barr in calling on tech companies to build “back doors” for law enforcement to access encrypted messages.
  • Currently, messaging apps like iMessage and WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted, meaning no one — including the companies that own the apps — can see people’s messages unless they obtain and unlock the person’s device.
  • Barr has for years been pressuring companies like Facebook and Apple to break end-to-end encryption, but the companies have declined.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The US and six of its allies are calling on big tech companies to weaken encryption in order to make it easier for law enforcement to break into messaging apps like iMessage or WhatsApp.

Officials from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and India joined US Attorney General William Barr to issue an international statement last week criticizing tech companies that currently offer end-to-end encryption.

Barr has been pressuring tech companies to weaken encryption for years, arguing that end-to-end encryption makes it harder for law enforcement to track down criminals. The Department of Justice has called out Facebook and Apple for providing end-to-end encryption, but both companies have so far refused to weaken their security protocols.

Services like WhatsApp, iMessage, Signal, and Zoom use end-to-end encryption, which means all messages are automatically encrypted and can only be decrypted by the unique “key” found on the devices of the sender and recipient. That means nobody — including law enforcement or even the companies that own the apps — can access the messages without obtaining a users’ device and logging in.

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The seven governments want tech companies to find a way to build “back doors” into messaging apps that would let police easily access the messages of suspects in criminal investigations. They also argue that encryption makes it impossible for tech companies to enforce their own terms of service and prevent illegal activity on their apps.

“Law enforcement has a responsibility to protect citizens by investigating and prosecuting crime and safeguarding the vulnerable,” the countries wrote in the statement. “End-to-end encryption that precludes lawful access to the content of communications in any circumstances directly impacts these responsibilities, creating severe risks to public safety.”

Last year, all of the same countries except Japan and India issued a similar statement calling on tech companies to create backdoors. Tech companies have consistently objected, arguing that there’s no way to build such backdoors without eliminating end-to-end encryption altogether.

Security experts have echoed that sentiment. Chris Howell, CTO of encrypted messaging app Wickr, said the governments’ calls would effectively imperil people’s privacy and make apps more vulnerable to cybercriminals in an interview with Business Insider earlier this year.

“There is no security mechanism that can discriminate between a hacker trying to crack it and a law enforcement officer trying to do the same thing,” Howell said. “Either we secure it or we don’t, it’s that simple.”



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