There have been demands for WhatsApp to weaken its encryption standards, allowing law enforcement agencies a backdoor to intervene and investigate certain cases.
But Will Cathcart, Head of WhatsApp in a joint statement with head of Facebook Messenger, has reaffirmed that both the Facebook-owned platforms will not weaken their encryption levels, making sure the privacy of its users and the messages shared between two people remains intact.
This open letter has been directed at Priti Patel MP, United Kingdom Secretary of State for the Home Department, William P. Barr, Attorney General, United States Chad F. Wolf, Secretary of Homeland Security (Acting), United States and Peter Dutton MP, Australian Minister for Home Affairs.
Cathcart elucidates, “the core principle behind end-to-end encryption is that only the sender and recipient of a message have the keys to 'unlock' and read what is sent. No one can intercept and read these messages – not us, not governments, not hackers or criminals.”
He also explains that having a "backdoor" access that law enforcement agencies are seeking will be a gift to the criminals.
“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. It is simply impossible to create such a backdoor for one purpose and not expect others to try and open it. People’s private messages would be less secure and the real winners would be anyone seeking to take advantage of that weakened security. That is not something we are prepared to do.”Will Cathcart, Head of WhatsApp in a letter
Having said that, it seems Cathcart and Co. will be open to working with the government and provide them with assistance if they get legal requests to get some information.
“We deeply respect and support the work these officials do to keep us safe and we want to assure you that we will continue to respond to valid legal requests for the information we have available. We will also continue to prioritize emergencies, such as terrorism and child safety, and proactively refer to law enforcement matters involving credible threats.”Will Cathcart, Head of WhatsApp in a letter
He also emphasised that all the Facebook-owned products are investing heavily in ensuring the safety of users and WhatsApp is regularly taking down accounts by tracing them through unencrypted elements.
“WhatsApp detects and bans 2 million accounts every month based on abuse patterns and scans unencrypted information, such as profile and group information for abusive content, like child exploitative imagery.”Will Cathcart, Head of WhatsApp in a letter
Without sharing the exact details of its efforts to minimise sharing of hatred content by users, WhatsApp is basically saying, we’ll help law enforcement agencies, but don’t expect us to weaken the encryption levels to support their case.
It is facing similar charges in India, especially after the Pegasus spyware incident came into light. WhatsApp has already been slapped with two notices, with the second one warning that it will be liable to be treated as 'abettors' and can face legal consequences if it remains "mute spectators".
The Facebook-owned company was also asked to set up a local corporate entity that is subject to Indian laws within a defined time-frame as well as appoint a grievance officer.
WhatsApp has turned down the Indian government's demand to provide it with a solution to track the origin of messages on its platform saying doing so will affect end-to-end encryption and breach user privacy.