End-to-end encrypted messaging is a major issue for law enforcement—as the world shifts from easy to crack (for governments) cellular SMS messaging to various flavors of IP messaging, such as WhatsApp, iMessage, Signal and Wickr, governments are exploring their options.
The challenge is that such services are provided by technology companies, mostly based in the U.S., making them to a large extent out of reach from lawmakers elsewhere. The messaging services run “over the top,” meaning they are not tied directly to the provider of the network or the phone.
All of which means that the powerbroker here, as in most things tech, is the U.S. government. Which is why when Politico reported that “senior Trump administration officials met on Wednesday [June 26] to discuss whether to seek legislation prohibiting tech companies from using forms of encryption that law enforcement can’t break,” it was of real significance, “a provocative step that would reopen a long-running feud between federal authorities and Silicon Valley.”
“Technology is moving fast, and privacy needs to move with it,” Joel Wallenstrom—the CEO of uber-secure messaging platform Wickr—told me. “These are all completely legitimate, understandable even predictable concerns coming from law enforcement and elsewhere.”
Politico cited several unnamed sources in reporting that “the encryption challenge, which the government calls ‘going dark,’ was the focus of a National Security Council meeting Wednesday morning that included the No. 2 officials from several key agencies.” The discussion focused on the lockdown of messaging apps, billed as “a privacy and security feature,” which “frustrates authorities investigating terrorism, drug trafficking and child pornography.”