Facebook’s Latest Promise Bound To Upset Three-Letter Gov’t Agencies

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Following an initially tepid response to the Apple vs. FBI debate, Facebook may soon provide technology that will completely secure private communications. The world’s largest social media company is set to offer end-to-end encryption capabilities on their Messenger application, according to recent reports.

End-to-end encryption safeguards information not only from externalities like hackers and governments (both domestic and international), but from the service providers themselves. In other words, only the involved people communicating can see the messages sent and received.

It now seems that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are taking a harder line on their somewhat wishy-washy stance on the FBI vs. Apple dispute and secure communications in general.

This debate was never just about the FBI and Apple or Facebook. The clash pits all law enforcement entities against private companies around the country. Local police departments are already emulating federal law enforcement policies, like the pervasive use of ‘Stingrays’, or cell-site simulators that capture cell phone communications real time. They, like the FBI and NSA, want to undermine encryption so that they can circumvent traditional and legal information gathering processes and acquire information indiscriminately and rapidly.

The contentious conflict is not new. This debate already happened in a virtually identical manner in the 90’s, which was famous enough to be dubbed the Crypto Wars. The case was thought to be settled after it was deemed highly unsafe to compromise encryption. But it seems like government agencies like the Department of Justice and the NSA forgot, or want another chance to continue to add to their already vast pool of people’s personal information.

After some delay, Facebook now joins the rest of the Silicon Valley brigade in squelching this debate once again by employing encrypted functionality.

Only months ago, WhatsApp had severely hampered the Justice Department’s ability to conduct a criminal investigation because of automatic end-to-end encryption. The specifics of Facebook’s encrypted communications, however, are reminiscent of their once nuanced stance on the San Bernadino shooter’s phone dispute. According to reports, Facebook will provide completely encrypted communications as an option.

Chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, Christopher Soghoian, highlighted the obvious pandering when he tweeted, “Making encryption opt-in was a decision made by the business and legal teams. It enables mine chats and not piss off governments.” In other words, to some privacy advocates, the opt-in functionality is a clear indication that large companies like Google and Facebook are not wholeheartedly committed to complete privacy.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.

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