For now, there are at least seven countries where governments are trying to get access to messengers. They claim it’s required to protect the public from some threats. But should it cost your privacy?
Not every messaging service protects the user data with encryption. If you are using one of these apps, governments, authorities, and other third parties can read the conversations you hold there. They would require all this data to just gather more information about you. After all, they might use it later for some needs.
Encryption protects our privacy thus giving us more freedom. And while not every app offers it, many messengers use end-to-end encryption by default or as an opt-in feature. If you have such a function enabled, only you and the person you’re talking to will be able to read the messages. Any third-parties will see just encrypted gibberish that’s impossible to decrypt.
Five Eyes Alliance — what is it?
It’s the name for the mutual agreement between five countries: the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Great Britain. They also made an agreement with Japan and India trying to get access to encrypted conversations held in apps that offer end-to-end encryption.
They claim that providing governments with access to all the messages is the only thing that will let them efficiently fight the crime and make the country safer. Which is a highly controversial thing to claim.
In the international statement the alliance released, governments state that they want lawful access to encrypted conversations whenever law enforcement and other authorities need to acquire evidence. This also applies to the data that’s hosted on foreign servers. The alliance wants to do this without threatening the privacy of users and lowering the efficiency of end-to-end encryption.
The statement doesn’t tell much about the technical side of this request. But what we can see from it is that the alliance wants apps to keep the efficiency of their encryption while completely destroying it.
It’s not the first attempt to control messaging
Such a request is not something novel. Officials are trying to gain access to as much data as possible. But this became an even more challenging task after Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed those enormous amounts of information governments were collecting without wondering much about our consent. And these revelations ignited the activity of developers who were aiming at improving encryption to make it so reliable that only two people who hold a conversation can read the messages. That’s called end-to-end encryption as it protects the data from both sources.
Some governments have reached some success in controlling the data. For example, Australia required developers to create backdoors for authorities for all the services that contain any data and are created in this country. This was is active since 2018. The Senate of the United State also introduced the law that puts responsibility for illegal data that was published by users on the tech companies forcing them to start monitoring all user interactions.
While the statement we’ve mentioned before sounds intimidating, it doesn’t mean companies now have to obey it. Australia, the States, and Britain have already asked Facebook for backdoors. This time, the statement simply comes from a bigger number of countries.
But we shouldn’t take it as nothing serious. The only fact that more governments are joining the statement means that they will keep trying to come up with a way to eventually have access to all the user data. So we must understand that it’s just a matter of time — one day we will have even less privacy.
How does it impact us and the world?
While governments are following a seemingly fair reason to implement laws for tech companies, this situation creates a difficult environment for developers. Now they need to consider all the rules and regulations of each country if they want to offer their services for users in those locations. That’s why we see so many companies limiting the countries where their services are available. And that’s why introducing digital services in most locations takes so much time.
Additionally, such surveillance and constantly growing censorship will take away our right to free speech. And we won’t be able to freely talk to people around the world online since our ideas or words might appear illegal or threatening.
Even if just a couple of countries will require backdoors for all services, users from around the world will suffer because it’s a hassle to roll out versions tailored for specific regions. As a result, all users will use a service with backdoors.
How can you protect your privacy?
First of all, you can stick to apps with end-to-end encryption while they still can truly protect you from prying eyes. And you could avoid discussing any sensitive topics to not create conversations that might be used against you. While it sounds like something a conspiracy theorist would do, it’s actually a wise habit.
Another thing you can do is to use a VPN app. iNinja is the best free VPN for Android, iOS, and desktop devices. It also comes as a VPN extension for the Chrome browser. This easy-to-use tool will cover your IP address thus adding another layer of protection making your location much more difficult to detect. And finally, you could use a TOR browser, however, it’s not considered that safe anymore.
Remember, the less information you share online, the harder it is to get some data on you. There is no simple solution for keeping your privacy intact. So we need to learn how to protect it as much as possible and get ready for the day when all those laws might pass.