Inside WhatsApp’s End-to-End Encryption: Why No Backdoor?

WhatsApp revealed that they’ve added end-to-end encryption to every form of communication across it’s over 1 billion users. Heavily debated in recent news has been Apple’s battle with the FBI in America over a federal order to unlock the iPhone of a mass shooter. Apple remained firm in its refusal to do so which set off international debate over privacy and security in the digital age.

Lawmakers and government authorities have called on companies like WhatsApp in many instances to build their encryption schemes with a backdoor to be used ONLY by law enforcement. There are currently many discussions around legislation that could require such backdoors. However, even those in favor of such law acknowledge this is not a simple issue.

Some quick points of debate regarding the issues of a backdoor:

  1. 1.     Would having a backdoor be pointless? A backdoor to encryption could entirely defeat the purpose. This would allow the opportunity for abuse by the government and hackers.
  2. 2.     Who gets the keys to the backdoor? This question alone can spark endless heated debates – and the answer isn’t clear. If WhatsApp did build a backdoor for the government? Who gets the key? Who is allowed access and when? Under what circumstances? Who decides? WhatsApp is international – what are the rights of other countries and their residents? What about the risks under unstable or corrupt governments?
  3. 3.     Removing encryption wont stop bad guys.  Now that encryption software tools are available to just about anyone, removing the encryption from WhatsApp wouldn’t stop malicious bad guys. They’ll find another way.
  4. 4.     Would a backdoor really solve terrorism? Looking at large scale attacks that have happened recently, it’s incredibly difficult to say whether a backdoor could’ve prevented such attacks. Although it’s probable that a backdoor could have  unfortunately, worldwide threats are a problem much wider than means of communication and social media.
  5. 5.     What’s Next? With over 1 billion users, WhatsApp might arguably be the most widely used messaging system. The implications of developing a backdoor would impact everyone.

Ultimately, only hindsight and the future will tell what the implications of end-to-end encryption and the existence of a backdoor will be.