Top law enforcement officials in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia told Facebook today that they want backdoor access to all encrypted messages sent on all its platforms. In an open letter, these governments called on Mark Zuckerberg to stop Facebook’s plan to introduce end-to-end encryption on all of the company’s messaging products and instead promise that it will “enable law enforcement to obtain lawful access to content in a readable and usable format.”
This is a staggering attempt to undermine the security and privacy of communications tools used by billions of people. Facebook should not comply. The letter comes in concert with the signing of a new agreement between the US and UK to provide access to allow law enforcement in one jurisdiction to more easily obtain electronic data stored in the other jurisdiction. But the letter to Facebook goes much further: law enforcement and national security agencies in these three countries are asking for nothing less than access to every conversation that crosses every digital device.
The letter focuses on the challenges of investigating the most serious crimes committed using digital tools, including child exploitation, but it ignores the severe risks that introducing encryption backdoors would create. Many people—including journalists, human rights activists, and those at risk of abuse by intimate partners—use encryption to stay safe in the physical world as well as the online one. And encryption is central to preventing criminals and even corporations from spying on our private conversations, and to ensure that the communications infrastructure we rely on is truly working as intended. What’s more, the backdoors into encrypted communications sought by these governments would be available not just to governments with a supposedly functional rule of law. Facebook and others would face immense pressure to also provide them to authoritarian regimes, who might seek to spy on dissidents in the name of combating terrorism or civil unrest, for example.
The Department of Justice and its partners in the UK and Australia claim to support “strong encryption,” but the unfettered access to encrypted data described in this letter is incompatible with how encryption actually works.
Andrew is a senior staff attorney on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s civil liberties team. He focuses on EFF’s national security and privacy docket, as well as the Coders’ Rights Project. While in law school, Andrew worked at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, and the Center for Democracy and Technology. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University. His interests include Boggle and donuts.
Joe Mullin is a policy analyst on EFF’s intellectual property team, where he works on patent reform, copyright issues, and free speech online. Before joining EFF, Joe worked as a reporter covering legal affairs for the technology website Ars Technica, and American Lawyer’s magazine group. Earlier in his journalism career, Joe wrote for The Associated Press and The Seattle Times. He has a bachelors degree in history and a masters in journalism, both from the University of California at Berkeley. Outside of his work at EFF, Joe enjoys trail running and cycling.
This article was sourced from EFF.org
Image credit: Anthony Freda Art
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