The US authorities are said to be mulling a potential court case against WhatsApp designed to force it to engineer a backdoor into its end-to-end message encryption service, as an influential IT think tank urged Washington to change its stance.
IT policy non-profit The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) argued in a new report that undermining encryption would weaken security for law abiding consumers and businesses, make it harder for US firms to compete globally, and do nothing to stop terrorists and criminals from using encryption.
Numerous services are available either via open source channels or from foreign providers, ITIF claims in its report: Unlocking Encryption: Information Security and the Rule of Law.
Report lead author, Daniel Castro, argued that we’re currently seeing a repeat of the “crypto wars” of the 1990s.
“US efforts to limit encryption will undermine significant progress made in information security and give foreign competitors an advantage in global markets. The US government should not be limiting private sector innovations that would improve cybersecurity for millions of consumers and businesses,” he added.
“Instead, the United States should block any attempts to restrict encryption and champion strong encryption as part of a broader strategy for improving cybersecurity around the world.”
The report comes as the Justice Department discusses how to proceed in a criminal investigation in which a federal judge has approved a wiretap request but law enforcers have been confounded by WhatsApp’s encryption technology.
It may be that this is the case which the FBI uses to take a legal stand against encrypted messaging and tries to force the Facebook-owned firm to engineer a backdoor for them, according to the New York Times.
The FBI has already made such a request to Apple over access to the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino killers, although it has hit a huge stumbling block in that most of Silicon Valley has come out in support of the Cupertino giant.
A Facebook executive was arrested in Brazil a few weeks ago after WhatsApp failed to accede to a request to reveal the content of messages related to a suspected drug-trafficking ring.