The United States, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India, and Japan are all calling major tech-companies including Apple to build backdoors to end-to-end encrypted messaging apps.
In a statement on Sunday, the US Department of Justice says that while they do support “strong encryption” they also agree that it “should not come at the expense of wholly precluding law enforcement, and the tech industry itself, from being able to act against the most serious illegal content and activity online.”
We reiterate that data protection, respect for privacy and the importance of encryption as technology changes and global Internet standards are developed remain at the forefront of each state’s legal framework. However, we challenge the assertion that public safety cannot be protected without compromising privacy or cyber security. We strongly believe that approaches protecting each of these important values are possible and strive to work with industry to collaborate on mutually agreeable solutions.
While the governments make their case that end-to-end encryption poses a threat to law enforcement, experts are slamming the attempt by the nations to put an end to true encryption. As Forbes explains:
Tech experts have previously slammed efforts to weaken end-to-end encryption arguing that adding a backdoor to the system amounts to breaking the whole system. Tech commentator John Gruber, previously wrote on his blog, “you can’t just ‘add a backdoor’ to a proper end-to-end encryption scheme. It’s the nature of the design not just that there are no backdoors but that there can be no backdoors. You can prove it, cryptographically, which is how you can trust it.” Alex Stamos, former chief security officer of Yahoo and Facebook, had previously likened the creation of an encryption back door to “drilling a hole in the windshield,” essentially cracking the structural integrity of the entire encryption shield.
iMessage is end-to-end encrypted, and Apple has publicly stated in the past it will not provide a backdoor to it or its software. Following a massive scandal that involved Apple’s involvement in an FBI investigation in 2016, Apple posted a public letter explaining its stance on encryption. As the company explained in 2016:
All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.
For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.
In that same letter, in response to the FBI’s request that it creates a backdoor to access a suspect’s information, Apple says it will not. Explaining in context to that years FBI investigation, Apple says:
But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.
Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.
The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.
Given Apple’s stance in the past, it’s unlikely it will comply with this new attempt by government to spy on users.