Instant messaging service WhatsApp has announced that all communications between its one billion users will now be protected by full end-to-end encryption, firmly positioning itself on the side of privacy amid efforts by law enforcement to access data.
The hugely popular Facebook-owned app started introducing end-to-end encryption in 2014. On Tuesday, it said it had extended that technology to all text messages, file transfers and voice calls exchanged between users on all devices.
“The idea is simple: when you send a message, the only person who can read it is the person or group chat that you send that message to,” the company said in a blog post. “No one can see inside that message. Not cybercriminals. Not hackers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us.”
WhatsApp’s move follows Apple’s confrontation with the U.S. government over whether it should be forced to provide the FBI with access to a terrorist’s iPhone. “Like Apple, WhatsApp is, in practice, stonewalling the federal government, but it’s doing so on a larger front — one that spans roughly a billion devices,” Wired commented.
Amnesty International called the default encryption a “huge victory” for free speech but a Republican lawmaker chastised WhatsApp.
“This is an open invitation to terrorists, drug dealers and sexual predators to use WhatsApp’s services to endanger the American people,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Wednesday.
WhatsApp referred to the controversy in its statement, saying that “While we recognize the important work of law enforcement in keeping people safe, efforts to weaken encryption risk exposing people’s information to abuse from cybercriminals, hackers, and rogue states.”
According to The New York Times, as recently as this month, the Justice Department was considering a court case against WhatsApp after a wiretap order ran into end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp “sees itself as fighting the same fight as Apple and so many others,” Wired said.
Inc. cautioned, however, that WhatsApp still has “a major vulnerability for privacy-concerned people … The metadata about communications is not secret. The government, could, for example, demand to know from Facebook/WhatsApp with whom a particular user communicated, when he or she did so, and how frequently.”