Helena Lyng Blak
3 weeks ago

European Police Call for an End to End-to-End Encryption

In a bold move against digital privacy, European police chiefs demand an end to end-to-end encryption, citing security concerns. Could this be the end of private conversations?
kentoh / DepositPhotos.com
kentoh / DepositPhotos.com

On Monday, April 21, 2024, in a joint declaration, the European Police Chiefs and Europol called for governments and the tech industry to take action against the rise in end-to-end encryption in digital messaging, specifically citing concerns surrounding Meta’s Messenger platform.

What is End-to-End Encryption?

End-to-end encryption (E2EE) differs from standard encryption used in messaging apps because only the receiver’s device can decrypt the messages sent.

With standard encryption, what the sender is sending can be read by the company processing the message before reaching the receiver. In the case of end-to-end encryption, the message is encrypted, even for the processing company.

Essentially, E2EE makes it so that no one can ‘listen in’ on private, digital conversations.

According to Meta’s Head of Messenger Loredana Crisan, the company has implemented E2EE to launch a “safer, more secure and private service.”

“I’m proud of what Messenger has become: a fast and reliable service, with enjoyable features and strong safety tools, and now with the added privacy and security of end-to-end encryption,” she said in December, 2023.

The Case Against Encryption

The concern among European authorities, however, is that the E2EE initiatives are doing more harm than good, protecting criminals from both preventive measures and gathering of evidence. The Police Chiefs are highlighting that they, in particular, worry that end-to-end encryption will negatively affect technology companies’ and authorities’ efforts to detect perpetrators who commit sexual crimes against children.

“Our homes are becoming more dangerous than our streets as crime is moving online. To keep our society and people safe, we need this digital environment to be secured,” said Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle, elaborating that, “Tech companies have a social responsibility to develop a safer environment where law enforcement and justice can do their work. If police lose the ability to collect evidence, our society will not be able to protect people from becoming victims of crime.”

The Case for Encryption

The other side of the argument goes that E2EE is necessary in order to protect free speech, the privacy, and the safety of private citizens, as well as political activists and journalists, globally.

According to the BBC human rights charity Privacy International, stated that encryption is “an essential defense, shielding journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, artists, and marginalized groups from potential abuse by data-hungry companies and governments.”

The struggle of balancing personal privacy with national security is a tale as old as time, and the case at hand is certainly not the first nor will it be the last concerning this battle of the digital age.

As for now, users can report private messages sent via Messenger to Meta, if they desire to do so, thus making the message readable to the company, and, if necessary, the authorities.

Meta has offered the opportunity to have conversations be end-to-end encrypted in the Messenger app, and has since late 2023 begun to roll it out as a default setting.

Despite the controversies surrounding encryption, Meta’s business performance remains strong. The company’s shares are up 24.93% year-to-date as of closing on Monday and have soared 77.90% in the last 12 months.

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