What is End-to-End Encryption?
End-to-end encryption is a part of daily life, running in the background on messaging and email apps, which most people never give a thought to until their data is breached. Encrypted email and messaging both help to ensure that personal and enterprise-level data is secure
Encryption protects messages so that only the sender and recipient can read or listen to the content of the message. No one else can access the data on the server, not the service provider, hackers or other third parties. Currently, end-to-end encryption is the gold standard for protecting digital communication and is used by many companies to protect people’s information and privacy.
With this type of encryption, cyberattackers can’t steal personal information by intercepting messages and then use it for identity theft or blackmail.
Why is the UK Government Fighting It?
This security is the reason the UK government is currently going against end-to-end encryption. They claim it hinders their abilities to identify and prosecute criminals, including blackmailers and pedophiles.
Over the past several years the UK government has worked to limit the scope of end-to-end encryption. They have pressured companies such as Facebook, parent company of the popular instant messaging app WhatsApp, to create backdoor access to its apps. Backdoor access would allow government and law enforcement to read personal messages sent with these types of apps.
Tech giants generally have not voluntarily provided this access. In some cases, the government has used the 2016 Investigatory Act, which sets out the government’s surveillance powers, to force companies to allow this access. An online safety bill, currently pending in parliament, would also give the government the power to fine companies if they don’t remove illegal content posted by child abusers or terrorists. However, it’s still unclear whether the bill would include content sent on messaging apps with end-to-end encryption.
Data Privacy Groups and Watchdog Organizations Push Back
In response to the UK government’s claims that end-to-end encryption allows criminals to go free, data privacy groups, technology companies and rights groups say that encrypted messages make everyone safer.
Encryption automatically protects users’ personal data and prevents identity theft without the user having to opt-in or install additional security programs. But identity theft is not the only problem — any backdoor built into encryption could weaken the same encryption that keeps vital information safe when it comes to industries ranging from healthcare to infrastructure.
Proponents of end-to-end encryption say that the government has other ways of catching criminals without violating everyone’s privacy. Tried-and-true methods include using informants, sending police undercover, following up on reports from children who are victims of this kind of abuse, and using evidence from convicted abusers. They say that individuals’ privacy does not need to be violated in order to prosecute these crimes.