Why Encryption Bans Won't Work: Brazil Government's WhatsApp Block Just Sends Users To Other Encrypted Platforms

from the generating-more-business-for-competitors dept

The battle against encryption being fought valiantly stupidly by the FBI, a few law enforcement figureheads, and a handful of legislators is an unwinnable war. Just ask Brazil, where the government has blocked WhatsApp repeatedly in an effort to force it to comply with demands for information. The problem is that WhatsApp now utilizes end-to-end encryption for all messages, meaning WhatsApp cannot provide any information about message content no matter how badly the Brazilian government wants it.

So Brazil blocks WhatsApp periodically and everyone wanting a secure messaging platform simply routes around it.

Several rival apps that offer encrypted messaging services reported a surge in Brazilian sign-ups, which highlights how the growing ubiquity of private messaging apps makes it hard to stop people from using them.
Both Telegram and Viber reported surges in new signups, with Telegram saying it had gained more than one million new Brazilian users. And this is happening every time the government decides it's going to kick WhatsApp off the internet.

The same thing will happen with any of the proposed encryption bans currently making their way through various legislative entities. Bans have been proposed in both California and New York. If imposed, the only thing they'll guarantee is that locals will be purchasing phones in another state.

And those who don't feel comfortable with the end result of other efforts like Dianne Feinstein's will opt to use communication platforms/cell phone service providers who haven't caved to government demands that companies hold the encryption keys.

FBI director James Comey seems to believe he can make the world unite in the banning of encryption. This is apparently based on his abject failure to convince even a majority of US legislators that bans and backdoors are a good idea.

As long as there are options, people will seek them out. That's the only guaranteed outcome. And the more a government tries to clamp down, the further it separates itself from any usable information, like communications metadata and access to subscriber information. Once you've pushed citizens to using platforms located in other jurisdictions, your powers become severely diluted. It would be better to just accept the growing shift to encryption and explore other options that don't involve slamming your head repeatedly into an immovable force.

And, it must be pointed out that people have communicated securely for years without the government claiming it should have access to every private conversation and the contents of every mailed letter. Just because texting has replaced phone calls and letters doesn't mean the government is somehow entitled to this new wealth of communications. Just because it's easier to obtain in bulk doesn't mean it's the end of the investigative line when encryption takes that opportunity away. James Comey should stop worrying about the "smart people" in tech companies and spend more time with the "smart people" in law enforcement and find out why they're not doing more to alleviate the situation.

Filed Under: alternatives, blocking encryption, brazil, encryption, going dark, messaging
Companies: telegram, viber, whatsapp


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  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 9:42am

    Download book Applied Cryptography while it is still legal to do so

    Speaking of encryption bans. Let's not forget during the clipper chip fiasco the US government, or some of its agents, wanted to ban actual knowledge.

    http://cacr.uwaterloo.ca/hac/

    CRC Press
    ISBN: 0-8493-8523-7
    October 1996, 816 pages
    Fifth Printing (August 2001)

    It is still for sale. (Example: Amazon $84.10)

    See this copyright information before downloading:

    http://cacr.uwaterloo.ca/hac/about/copyright-notice.html

    CRC press has granted the following specific permissions for the electronic version of this book:

    * Permission is granted to retrieve, print and store a single copy of this chapter for personal use. This permission does not extend to binding multiple chapters of the book, photocopying or producing copies for other than personal use of the person creating the copy, or making electronic copies available for retrieval by others without prior permission in writing from CRC Press.

    Except where over-ridden by the specific permission above, the standard copyright notice from CRC Press applies to this electronic version:

    * Neither this book nor any part may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, microfilming, and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

    * The consent of CRC Press does not extend to copying for general distribution, for promotion, for creating new works, or for resale. Specific permission must be obtained in writing from CRC Press for such copying.



    Once James Comey hears that this has been generously made available for download, for personal use, his head will explode!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mcinsand, 10 May 2016 @ 9:46am

    encryption policies tell a lot

    What a government adopts as an encryption policy speaks volumes about the government. Prohibiting encryption shows that the security is not a concern, and the government expects for citizens to be sitting ducks for people with ill intent. Requiring an encryption back door shows technological incompetence, since no person that actually understands software principles will expect a backdoor to remain under control. A government that mandates secure encryption (if there is such a government) values the citizens' security. Encryption keeps information out of the hands of thieves, stalkers, or other potential attackers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 9:50am

      Re: encryption policies tell a lot

      Trying to ban encryption is trying to ban private conversations. Just because an electronic channel is used for the conversation should not mean that the government should be able to listen in at will, or replay the conversation latter.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        DannyB (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 9:55am

        Re: Re: encryption policies tell a lot

        The more you tighten your grip with surveillance, the more encrypted messages will slip through your fingers.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Roger Strong (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 11:36am

          Re: Re: Re: encryption policies tell a lot

          One thing worth mentioning about the statement you paraphrase: Princess Leia's home planet didn't merely fail to slip through the Empire's fingers; they destroyed it outright.

          It's not enough to win against the authorities. You need to escape their vengeance when you contradict them, let alone win.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            DannyB (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 1:48pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: encryption policies tell a lot

            The guy in Tiananmen square who got ran over by the tank did not escape their vengeance, but I would say that he did win. His death made a statement that was worldwide and history making.

            To a lesser extent Edward Snowden didn't fully escape their vengeance with impunity. He gave up his girlfriend, his life, his career. But he did win. He had a profound effect. He will probably go down in history in a very positive light.

            Princess Leia's home planet may not have survived, but it probably galvanized the rebellion in a way nothing else could.

            Luke lost his family. That galvanized him to join the rebellion when earlier he had been talking like "...it's not that I like the empire, I hate it, but..." and would probably have become a storm trooper.

            When Sherridan declared Babylon 5's independence from Earth, that didn't make him very popular with the government back on Earth.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 9:47am

    As long as there are options, people will seek them out.

    As long as there are options, people will seek them out.
    That is why all options must be eliminated.

    A task about as likely to succeed as SOPA. Or The War (on some) Drugs. Or trying to stop the internet from talking about factual information that Ms. Stiesand doesn't want them to talk about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 9:57am

    It would be better to just accept the growing shift to encryption and explore other options that don't involve slamming your head repeatedly into an immovable force.

    It's "immovable object" or "irresistible force". The idea of an "immovable force" makes no sense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 10:05am

    Except Telegram isn't what you'd call an end-to-end encrypted platform, not as long as the E2E encryption is not enabled by default.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    afn29129 (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 10:11am

    Prohibition ver 2.0

    Tell me again how well prohibition worked.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 10:18am

      Re: Prohibition ver 2.0

      The war on drugs is a wonderful success, if your intent was to deliver countries to the south of the US into the hands of the drug lords.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 10 May 2016 @ 1:50pm

      Re: Prohibition ver 2.0

      SOPA worked out very well.

      Three Strikes in France is going swimmingly.

      And Sick Strikes in the US is doing quite well.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 10:35am

    the really worrying thing about countries that are doing the same or similar thing is that they are, in the main, supposedly DEMOCRACIES! ever since the purposely engineered 'Financial Crash' of 2007-8, more and more countries have become governed by Conservative type governments. these are all doing very much the same thing. removing as many laws that were made to protect the people, both in and out of work, removing whatever systems that were/are in place that help citizens to remain clothed, fed and housed and introduce as many laws as possible that protect the rich, the famous and the powerful! the Planet is going to be run as a giant business before long, unless there are multiple changes to the governments that are in power at the moment and there will be almost no protection, no human rights, no after sales protection, in fact nothing other than what looks after those mentioned above and the industries, corporations, companies and businesses which will only get richer. until, that is, when there are not enough workers left!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 10:36am

    Dry Humor

    "...'smart people' in law enforcement."

    Only the driest from our Tim.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2016 @ 12:57pm

    Ricochet IM

    Retroshare

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    cuchillo84, 11 May 2016 @ 9:32am

    Why Telegram?

    I take issue with the fact that Brazilians switch to Telegram. Since WhatsApp's introduction of end-to-end encryption, Telegram is actually less secure. They should switch to a more secure platform (like Signal or Threema), not to a less secure one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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