In March, Facebook announced plans for a more privacy-focused approach to its services. It’s also working towards unifying messaging across WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger with end-to-end encryption. Naturally, law enforcement wasn’t excited about the idea. So, this week the DOJ asks Facebook encryption plans to be halted.
On Friday, Attorney General William Barr is set to make the request in an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton also signed the draft letter.
The letter argues Facebook should “enable law enforcement to obtain lawful access to content in a readable and usable format,” effectively providing authorities with backdoor access to messaging across WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger. It will ask Facebook to work with governments to ensure that’s the case.
“Risks to public safety from Facebook’s proposals are exacerbated in the context of a single platform that would combine inaccessible messaging services with open profiles, providing unique routes for prospective offenders to identify and groom our children,” the letter reads.
The reason many of these tech companies are looking into encryption is simply due to the Edward Snowden leak of NSA data collection, in which many mobile carriers were complicit in handing over information without due process. This led to public backlash for privacy on mobile devices, which led to the FBI issue with Apple.
Apple declined to open an iPhone from one of the San Bernardino shooters. However, the FBI managed to gain access into the device, but Apple made a stronger effort to prevent anyone from gaining unauthorized access to personal devices.
The fact that the DOJ asks Facebook encryption plans be halted and create a “backdoor” for law enforcement to gain access is troubling. Whether people believe they have nothing to hide at all is irrelevant. This could give law enforcement access to your personal information at any time for any reason. Even if you have a certain political affiliation, whether it be liberal or conservative.
If you believe that the DOJ asks Facebook encryption be halted isn’t a huge deal – here’s a test. Take your phone with you to work tomorrow, or anywhere public (i.e. Starbucks, McDonalds, or a gas station), turn off your PIN, facial recognition or whatever to unlock your phone. Then, leave it out in public for anyone to look at it. If that bothers you, that is what allowing law enforcement (or anyone with clearance) to gain access to your phone without consent.