Tech Firms Struggle to Balance Privacy With Security

As companies like Facebook move to make encryption standard in messaging, governments are fighting back

Raphael Tsavkko Garcia
OneZero
Published in
7 min readOct 14, 2019

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Photo by Tayler Smith, Prop Styling by Caroline Dorn

TThe United States has a long and complicated relationship with encryption. While free speech campaigners and many technologists defend encryption as a tool that is a technological expression of the First Amendment, many in law enforcement argue that encryption protects criminals, terrorists, and child abusers.

Until recently, it was only the authoritarian regimes of Russia, China, and Turkey that demanded backdoors to encrypted communications, which fitted with their policies of censorship and information control. But in early October, U.S. Attorney General William Barr wrote to Facebook demanding that the company halts plans to expand encryption across its messaging services “without including a means for lawful access to the content of communications to protect our citizens.”

The letter, which was co-signed with the U.K. and Australian governments, came after an explosive New York Times investigation that reported an unprecedented 45 million images of child sexual abuse were found online in 2018 alone. Poorly-resourced law enforcement is battling against sophisticated and powerful technologies that keep offenders anonymous, campaigners say.

“Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world,” read the letter. “Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes.” The letter followed reports of an earlier meeting by senior officials in the Trump administration in June, who discussed how to outlaw any encryption that couldn’t be opened by the government — a move that would effectively make unbreakable encryption illegal.

A series of devastating terrorist attacks have also prompted greater scrutiny of how criminals are coordinating online, and the U.S. is just one of several Western governments exploring ways to give law enforcement access to the encrypted communications of suspects on popular services such as WhatsApp and iMessage. And what we are seeing, as a result, is a deliberate shift toward government…

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Raphael Tsavkko Garcia
OneZero
Writer for

Journalist, PhD in Human Rights (University of Deusto). MA in Communication Sciences, BA in International Relations. www.tsavkko.com.br