More Than 100 Rights Organizations Push Back Against Anti-Security Push

Following the letter by various governments urging Facebook to abandon protecting their users, digital rights organizations are pushing back with a letter of their own.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but the fight over whether or not Facebook should secure messaging is heating up yet again. Yesterday, we reported on the fact that the US, UK, and Australian governments are pushing for Facebook to abandon its effort to secure messages on their messenger app. The letter is a followup to the FBI director making the wild accusations that securing messages on Facebook would lead to child predators and child pornography.

Now, more than 100 rights organizations are fighting back. They say that securing messages is a positive thing for society. United in their stance, they signed an open letter to Facebook urging the platform to continue in their efforts to improving security for their users. The letter reads:

The organizations below write today to encourage you, in no uncertain terms, to continue increasing the end-to-end security across Facebook’s messaging services.

We have seen requests from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australian governments asking you to suspend these plans “until [Facebook] can guarantee the added privacy does not reduce public safety”. We believe they have this entirely backwards: each day that platforms do not support strong end-to-end security is another day that this data can be breached, mishandled, or otherwise obtained by powerful entities or rogue actors to exploit it.

Given the remarkable reach of Facebook’s messaging services, ensuring default end-to-end security will provide a substantial boon to worldwide communications freedom, to public safety, and to democratic values, and we urge you to proceed with your plans to encrypt messaging through Facebook products and services. We encourage you to resist calls to create so-called “backdoors” or “exceptional access” to the content of users’ messages, which will fundamentally weaken encryption and the privacy and security of all users.

Utilizing Notepad++, by our count, the total number of signatories totals 112 as of this writing. Signatories include Access Now, AfroLeadership, the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity, Asociación Argentina de Usuarios de Internet – Internauta Argentina, Asociación Colombiana de Usuarios de Internet, Association for Technology and Internet – ApTI Romania, Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC), Bits of Freedom, Canadian Internet Registration Authority, Centro de Ensino e Pesquisa em Inovação (CEPI), FGV Direito SP, Brasil, Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), Electronic Frontier Finland, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Frontier Australia, EMPOWER Malaysia, Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines), Fourth Estate, Internet Society – Bulgaria, Internet Society UK England Chapter, InternetNZ, IT-Political Association of Denmark, Korean Progressive Network Jinbonet, Latin-American Privacy Association,
LGBT Technology Partnership, Open Media, the Open Rights Group, PEN America, Prostasia Foundation, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Samuelson-Glushko of the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), Simply Secure, the South Pacific Computer Society, the TOR Project, and the Women Of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) to name a few.

So, already, we are seeing what amounts to a who’s who in rights organizations already. The list is massive and only stands to grow from here. This is one massive global push to say the least.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for its part, further expanded on what the open letter talked about. In a separate post, the organization made the following comments:

Top law enforcement officials in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia told Facebook today that they want backdoor access to all encrypted messages sent on all its platforms. In an open letter, these governments called on Mark Zuckerberg to stop Facebook’s plan to introduce end-to-end encryption on all of the company’s messaging products and instead promise that it will “enable law enforcement to obtain lawful access to content in a readable and usable format.”

This is a staggering attempt to undermine the security and privacy of communications tools used by billions of people. Facebook should not comply. The letter comes in concert with the signing of a new agreement between the US and UK to provide access to allow law enforcement in one jurisdiction to more easily obtain electronic data stored in the other jurisdiction. But the letter to Facebook goes much further: law enforcement and national security agencies in these three countries are asking for nothing less than access to every conversation that crosses every digital device.

The letter focuses on the challenges of investigating the most serious crimes committed using digital tools, including child exploitation, but it ignores the severe risks that introducing encryption backdoors would create. Many people—including journalists, human rights activists, and those at risk of abuse by intimate partners—use encryption to stay safe in the physical world as well as the online one. And encryption is central to preventing criminals and even corporations from spying on our private conversations, and to ensure that the communications infrastructure we rely on is truly working as intended. What’s more, the backdoors into encrypted communications sought by these governments would be available not just to governments with a supposedly functional rule of law. Facebook and others would face immense pressure to also provide them to authoritarian regimes, who might seek to spy on dissidents in the name of combatting terrorism or civil unrest, for example.

The Department of Justice and its partners in the UK and Australia claim to support “strong encryption,” but the unfettered access to encrypted data described in this letter is incompatible with how encryption actually works.

One thing is for sure, we are seeing rights organization drawing a line in the sand and saying, “enough” to the push against encryption. The only thing in all of this is the fact that the battleground is a private company, so anything could happen, really. With so much on the line, this battle only stands to heat up even further in the weeks and months ahead.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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