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WhatsApp Turns Down India’s Demand For Message Traceability – Rightly So

It’s clearly true that untraceable messages create problems for law enforcement and even the suppression of incitement to violence. However, the ability to send untraceable messages is now here, along with end to end encryption. Trying to make any one supplier – like WhatsApp for example – not offer such features doesn’t do any good. The code is out there, it’s easy enough to download versions of it, it’s all something that just isn’t going to go away. Thus law enforcement, along with everyone else, just needs to adapt to this new technological world. Rather than trying to turn back the clock to one in which such complications didn’t exist:

Whatsapp has said it cannot build software to trace origin of a message on its platform, turning down a demand from the Indian government that wanted such a solution to track down fake or false information that has led to crimes like mob-lynching.The company continues to hold its stance that it cannot trace origin of messages because of end-to-end encryption. When contacted, a WhatsApp spokesperson said “Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating the potential for serious misuse. WhatsApp will not weaken the privacy protections we provide”.

That WhatsApp does or does not do this really isn’t the point at all. It’s that such end to end encryption, and thus a proper invisibility cloak over communications, means that whether any one supplier offers it or not is irrelevant. Anyone really interested in being a proper criminal will have access to some other system which does use full end to end encryption. The cat is out of the bag that is:

NEW DELHI: Under pressure from the government to change the way it operates in the country, WhatsApp has agreed to meet all demands of the IT Ministry… ..

Except, of course, that traceability issue. So, there will be a locally based compliance officer and so on.

There had been a spate of incidents of lynching in the country connected to fake messages on social media platforms, mainly through WhatsApp. A number of murders were reported from several states, including Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tripura, Jharkhand and West Bengal, in the last few months.

It’s entirely true that these are not good things. But that a new technology is misused as well as well so does not mean that it must be altered as the government wishes. The technical issue is that WhatsApp doesn’t actually store the data of who is sending what. It’s part of that encryption. So, if all of the legitimate users are to gain that security against prying eyes then, well, then so will also those plotting nefarity. And no, we shouldn’t rescind the protections just to catch the bad guys. Just as we don’t demand an end to freedom of speech because some use that freedom badly or wrongly.

WhatsApp is quite right to insist that it won’t change the basic functioning of its software. After all, why shouldn’t we have a method of communicating that the government cannot interfere with, cannot read?

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5 years ago

Let the market decide. WhatsAppOpen and WhatAppPrivate, let the consumer chose whether to use envelopes or postcards.

Quentin Vole
Quentin Vole
5 years ago

It’s not quite as simple as that. From the perspective of GCHQ or NSA, use of end-to-end encryption could be a helpful flag, even if it was genuinely unbreakable – look over here, this guy is using end-to-end encryption, maybe they warrant closer monitoring. But if large numbers of people are using it, there’s no traffic analysis available any longer.

Use of WhatsApp can’t help if the end device is already pwned, of course.

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