The European Court of Human Rights stipulates that governments may spy on WhatsApp

The European Court of Human Rights stipulates that governments may spy on WhatsApp

BarcelonaThe main tool for defending our privacy available to citizens is end-to-end encryption (End to end, end-to-end) of our communications, ensuring that the content of messages can only be read by the recipient, even if they are intercepted along the way. For this reason, this is also the main disadvantage that authorities face when they try to spy on conversations, either to detect criminal activities or for other less recognized reasons. That is why many governments around the world – and the Spanish governments are one of them – intend to force digital platforms by law to weaken their encryption systems by introducing Back doors Which allows talking about the content of messages.

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A few days ago, these aspirations of the authorities received a setback of the first degree. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that laws requiring the weakening of encryption of communications – or the retention of an excessive amount of data – violate the European Convention on Human Rights and “cannot be considered necessary in a democratic society”.

The ECtHR's opinion derives from a request for protection filed by Russian citizen Anton Valerievich Podchasov in 2019, when his country's courts rejected his claim against the Federal Security Service (FSB, the successor to the KGB) for demanding assistance from Telegram. They decipher Podchasov's messages. The cable refused, but the case went to the European Court of Human Rights anyway because Russia was part of the Council of Europe until March 2022, after the invasion of Ukraine. The European Court of Human Rights held that requiring Telegram to decrypt one user's end-to-end encrypted communications was tantamount to requiring it to weaken the communications of all other users. This is the key that sets a precedent that affects the attempts of all authorities in other countries.

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One of the main arguments for governments for wanting to intercept citizens' electronic communications is the desire to detect and prosecute the dissemination of child sexual abuse (CSAM) content. A European regulation, called ChatControl 1.0, already exists, which allows major platforms – such as Gmail, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Skype, Snapchat, iCloud Mail and Xbox Chats – to voluntarily explore content you upload without encryption and report crimes to the police. . But last year the European Commission proposed ChatControl 2.0, which would extend the possibility of scanning to encrypted conversations and make it mandatory.

Most chat services currently encrypt conversations end-to-end: WhatsApp and Signal, which share a protocol, do this by default, while Telegram requires you to enable it explicitly by opening a “private chat.” For now, the decision of the European Court of Human Rights allows us to continue to rely on the specificity of these mechanisms. Authorities will have to find other systems to detect criminals, perhaps like the one Apple proposed a few years ago to periodically scan using artificial intelligence all the photos in a phone's gallery, before sending them, to look for patterns consistent with child sexual abuse. content. However, the company ended up backing down in the face of the anger of some activists.

Calls to X can be more private

The network formerly known as Twitter activated the voice and video calling feature for all users a few days ago. You may not have seen it because it's largely hidden within the direct messaging feature. It can be useful to have conversations with people whose phone number you don't know, just their username on the platform. But receiving calls from strangers can also end in citation if you don't set the options restrictively enough. In fact, in the same settings, you can completely disable the calling function. In the first few days, there were some privacy concerns: some users noticed that by default calls are made directly between parties without passing through X servers, revealing our IP address to the party, and this would allow geolocation – us for this reason The platform has added an option Enhance privacy Which routes calls through its infrastructure and hides IP addresses. But you have to enable it explicitly. However, it will always be better than most other chats, which show our other mobile number directly.

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