For a long time, Facebook has always been criticised for violations of user privacy, particularly by regulators in the US itself. When Mark Zuckerberg was asked to attend the US senate hearing, he was questioned repeatedly whether Facebook was collecting data of users or reading users’ messages on its platforms. There has been backlash over how the platform is used by people across the globe. The company was involved in a huge political scandal- the Cambridge Analytica instance where data of its users was being mined for years for political campaigns and agenda-setting. The platform was also found to have ties with Russian troll farms and political groups in India to create fake news campaigns.
To amend its past actions, the social media giant announced end to end encryption on their platforms which touch billions of users- Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. End to end encryption is very important to ensure third parties and hackers do not illegitimately gain access to communication between two people. Facebook’s end to end encryption is the best in class, which is good news for its users’ privacy.
Why Regulators Don’t Want End To End Data Encryption
Now, the Justice Department in the US has made an ironic move asking Facebook to create back doors to its end to end encryption. The reason they have given is that they will help regulators trace illegal activities on the web such as terrorism and child trafficking by getting lawful obtainment of private encrypted messages. In a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, William Barr Attorney General wrote that tech companies should not wilfully design their systems in a way so access to user data can be avoided. The plea has seen support from other countries like the UK and Australia too.
With an aim to solve crimes and trace terrorist activities, the US has also signed an agreement with the UK recently where user data belonging to tech companies can be exchanged freely for criminal investigations. The agreement comes under “Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act” also known as the [CLOUD Act] enacted by US legislators recently, permitting law enforcement organisations to acquire data stored in foreign countries. The Act also allows US technology providers to intercept and decrypt data flow and communications, which is the main reason why Facebook has been asked to not go with its end to end encryption.
Facebook Now Defends Its Move For The Sake Of Data Privacy
Facebook itself has come out against the request, stating it believes users have the right to interact in a private manner and will not oppose the creation of back doors for government orders to gain access to user data. In fact, in a recent audio leak, Zuckerberg reportedly had apparently said Facebook is making big plans for encryption across its services which according to him is monumental for user privacy. He also expressed concerns that law enforcement agencies will have a problem with it and that’s what has turned out to be true.
The issue of gaining access to encrypted communication for law enforcement agencies first came to light in 2016 when Apple was asked to unlock an iPhone belonging to a suspect in a mass shooting in California. Apple which has been standing for user privacy denied the US government, and was lauded for the decision by its customers. response has been seen in the case of Facebook where social media users and security experts have come out in support of the company.
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Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine (AIM) and writes on the latest in the world of analytics, AI and other emerging technologies. Previously, he was a senior correspondent for IDG CIO and ComputerWorld. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org