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WhatsApp Decided to Apply Encryption Scheme on Voice Calls

WhatsApp has decided to expand its encryption scheme to voice calls, as the fight between the U.S. government and Apple expands to include other major technology firms.


 WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook and Google are now all working on their own systems to increase user privacy and keep government hands off of messaging data. As the court battle between Apple and the U.S. Department of Justice rages on, many major Silicon Valley companies -- supporters of Apple in its resistance to handing over encryption backdoors to U.S. law enforcement -- have announced their own projects to increase the privacy and encryption of data exchanged on their platforms as well.

Google is considering enforcing other products with the end-to-end encryption used for Gmail. Snapchat has said it's working on its own security measures. And Facebook's WhatsApp messenger has announced plans to encrypt voice calls and group messages this week, according to an exclusive report by The Guardian.
Lines Drawn
Virtually every technology firm has at least explored, if not implemented, encryption schemes for data exchanged on their platforms, but the wave of new data security measures can -- without question -- be seen as a response to the fight between Apple and the FBI.

As Latin Post previously reported, the FBI attempted, through a court order, to compel Apple to create a modified, less secure version of its iOS operating system. The agency wanted to use the custom version of iOS to bypass security features on the encrypted iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

But Apple balked at the order, saying that it amounted to compelling a company to create a so-called backdoor that could make any iPhone insecure. The company claimed this would open a veritable Pandora's Box that could undermine the privacy of all Apple users -- and likely the company itself -- if it were to ever leak from the agency's control.

Beyond that practical argument, the fight between Apple and the Department of Justice has gotten uglier and more personal recently, with prosecutors questioning Apple's motives and honesty. At the same time, Facebook, Google and other heavyweights have joined in publicly on Apple's side.
Battle Brewing

If Facebook, Google and others filing amicus briefs on behalf of their Cupertino rival wasn't enough to show the growing divide between the government and Silicon Valley, announced expansions to encryption programs certainly is.

Of particular note in the growing encryption battle is WhatsApp, one of the world's most popular free messaging services, which is owned by Facebook. The app already encrypts users' messages by default, but the company has made a major, costly move by extending encryption to voice calls. WhatsApp isn't expanding encryption as just a show of support for Apple, though.
It Could Get Ugly
In fact, WhatsApp, and Facebook by extension, has been locked in its own battle with a government ordering it to decrypt user messages. That controversy has already gotten much more unpleasant than anything between Apple and the FBI.

This year, Brazil's federal government has repeatedly ordered WhatsApp to decrypt user messages that police forces say will provide key evidence against drug traffickers and other unsavory criminal elements in the country.

WhatsApp has responded to the Brazilian government much as Apple has to the FBI, saying it literally had no technical ability to provide those messages. Twice this year, Brazil has blocked WhatsApp from operating in the country as a result, though only temporarily after Brazilians protested because they depend on the app for daily communication.

Beyond temporary blocks, and beyond anything Apple has experienced with the U.S. government, Brazilian federal police actually arrested Facebook's VP for Latin America in early March for "repeated non-compliance" with government decryption orders. That, too, was only temporary. The executive's detention was reversed only hours later, after a higher court found the arrest to be "extreme and disproportionate."

But it ominously shows where the encryption battle between technology companies and governments may be headed, even more so now that Silicon Valley is beefing up its security and closing ranks with Apple.
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