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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  1. 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.


    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:


    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!

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