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Privacy Vs. Security: Australian Government Raises Concern Over End-To-End Encryption Of Messages


The Australian government has reportedly raised concern over end to end encryption of messages in relation with recent criminal activities and terrorist attacks as reported by the BBC:

“The Australian government says it wants new laws to force tech firms such as Apple and Facebook to provide access to encrypted messages.”

Recently, the news have been trailed with issues that bother on security and privacy. As privacy campaigners will continue to fight for the right to internet privacy of the internet, tech giants are also doing everything to ensure strong encryption of messages.

Applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram(more especially)  have their messages encrypted to protect citizens privacy. A few weeks ago, the Russian government threatened to ban the Telegram App after investigations revealed that the app was connected to the St.Petersburg bomb attack. When applications use end to end encryption, the messages are unreadable when intercepted.

Even though every internet user is entitled to privacy, shouldn’t they be more concerned about the activities of criminals and terrorists? The privacy setting of these applications seem to be in the favor of criminals, Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull has warned.

In certain countries like Australia, there are laws in place that require messaging services to hand over a suspect’s communications to the authority with an appropriate warrant. However, this is not the case with encrypted messages because they do not receive a legible copy. This was the case with Pavel Durov, the Russian internet guru and owner of Telegram app, after the bombing of St. Petersburg. In fact, he was accused of obstruction of justice for insisting not to have the power to breakthrough users’ private chats.

This encryption translates that messages by users cannot be intercepted by criminals as they find their way across the internet. On the downside nonetheless, criminals and terrorists can carry out secret business meetings and use the encryption to their advantage.

Prof. Alan Woodward, a computer scientist at Surrey University, opine that a majority of people agree that the situation is worrisome. He stated further:

“The trouble is trying to force companies to decrypt via legislation is the very reason end-to-end encryption was introduced particularly by US -based firms post Snowden – to give their global customer base confidence that no government could yet get them to do what the Australians now propose.”

Here’s what the Australian wants: Tech giants should make the content of encrypted messages flexible to the reach of the authority or the law should the need arise. Preventing online messages from being intercepted by the law he said was “not acceptable”. Prof Woodward in a support statement said:

“For this to work, the companies will have to change their technical architecture or somehow weaken the encryption; either way is a bad idea”

The BBC  reported further that “some politicians have called for apps to build a back door into their systems, to allow law enforcement access to encrypted messages. But such a system could also be exploited by criminals, defeating the purpose if encryption”. Notwithstanding, Mr. Turnbull rejected this idea and said he wanted communications handed over in the “usual way that applies in the offline.”

Security is key, so is user privacy. Which do we trade for the other?

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