By Margaret Zalo
A lot of information is shared back and forth on messaging platforms on a daily basis. While governments have an incentive to monitor private communication on these platforms to prevent the abuse of others’ rights; fears of surveillance, unauthorized data collection and other beaches of privacy drive individuals to seek security measures such as encryption to communicate without interference.
Encryption is a data-protecting process that converts information or a message into an unreadable form, preventing access by anyone other than the intended recipient.The use of online products/services that employ encryption mitigates the risk of incidents in which confidential, private or sensitive data –such as passwords, financial information and personal photographs– are copied, transmitted, viewed, stolen or used by persons unauthorized to do so.
As more people realise the value of online security, messaging apps gain a competitive advantage by adopting methods of protecting customer data such as encryption. A common form of encryption used by messaging apps to protect user data is end-to-end encryption(E2EE). E2EE facilitates secure communication that allows parties to send and receive information or messages privately, while completely preventing access by any other party including the intermediary messaging apps.
On end-to-end encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Signal, a message is encrypted on a sender’s device and transmitted through the intermediary’s servers to the recipient’s device in an unreadable format. When the intended recipient accesses the message, the information is decrypted for the recipient to its original form through a secret key. The intermediaries’ servers cannot decrypt encrypted information and merely act as a medium to facilitate data transfer of encrypted information. Hence, messaging apps that employ E2EE cannot read information shared by their customers.
E2EE better protects data from persons that may want to snoop on conversations as the privacy and security of customer communications cannot be compromised in transit even if attempts are made to hack or compromise servers. While individual devices may be hacked, it makes mass surveillance much harder. What is frowned upon about E2EE is the fact that it conceals communications between criminals as well – making it harder for law enforcement to access the information they need to safeguard the public, investigate crimes, and prevent future crimes. Hence, there have been attempts to enforce a “backdoor” for government authorities to access communications on messaging platforms in the interest of combatting crimes such as terrorism and child pornography. China and Russia, for instance, give their national security services the authority to order companies to install hardware and software that facilitate government surveillance.Continue reading