Facebook to Government: We Aren’t Weakening Security For You

In the ever growing feud between Facebook and government, Facebook took another shot recently. They firmly said they aren’t weakening encryption.

The Facebook vs various governments encryption battle is continuing. We previously noted how the US senate is holding hearings to demand that Facebook introduce backdoor access to people’s communications. While tech giants like Facebook were defending themselves in the hearings, it appears that Facebook is also defending themselves outside of the halls of government as well.

Facebook sent a letter to Attorney general, William Barr, saying that they won’t be weakening encryption. From CNET:

Facebook won’t back down from its plans to strengthen end-to-end encryption across all its messaging platforms, executives from the company told US Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday.

“The ‘backdoor’ access you are demanding for law enforcement would be a gift to criminals, hackers and repressive regimes, creating a way for them to enter our systems and leaving every person on our platforms more vulnerable to real-life harm,” Will Cathcart and Stan Chudnovsky wrote in a letter to Barr. Cathcart heads Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service and Chudnovsky oversees the social network’s Messenger application.

The point re-iterates some of the points being made in government as well. During the hearings, at one point, the argument was made that encryption does not necessarily mean that it is unhackable. In fact, no security is completely invulnerable. Another point was raised that there is skepticism that escrow style encryption is necessarily viable. In short, a single key to unlock all encryption would be technologically weak.

The letter comes after Facebook started testing encryption on video and audio calls. At the time, the move was widely seen as a rebuke to the pressure governments were exerting on Facebook to abandon its plans to implement end-to-end encryption on their messenger services.

Back in October, Germany joined the US, UK, and Australia to demand that Facebook either cease their efforts to implement these security measures or introduce a system that would allow law enforcement to circumvent their encryption. In the same month, UK politicians were so furious that Facebook wanted to protect their users, they summoned senior Facebook rep Nick Clegg to explain himself to committee. The move at the time was described by observers as “extraordinary”.

With US senators threatening to table bills to force Facebook to comply with their demands of backdoor access, it seems that either this was a bluff or an inevitable step for lawmakers.

For Americans, if the latter step is taken, then all they need to do is to look to Australia to find out what happens when lawmakers go this far off the deep end and criminalize effective security. Among other things, the law banning effective encryption (Assistance and Access Act) caused legal problems with existing privacy laws, made multinational companies blacklist the country as a place to do business, sparked an innovation and investment exodus out of the country, allowed the government to crack down on journalism that made critical points against the government, made students rethink their careers in computer science, and even caused an international incident with a neighbouring country. Ultimately, the laws proved to be disastrous for the country on multiple fronts.

Probably the only silver lining in all of this is that, at the very least, Americans can see what happens when the government declares war on security. Cold comfort perhaps, but at least its possible to see the kinds of things that happen when a government decides that security is something to crack down on.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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