There is a growing concern about online privacy and how personal data is protected when the internet is accessed, as several data hacks continue to hit the headlines. In the recent case of Barbulescu and Romania, the European Court of Human Rights’ significantly held that it is not unlawful for the employer to access employees’ communications to ensure that they have been working, including Facebook, messages and accounts. This blurs the line between human rights to privacy under Article 8 of the Convention rights and rights to data privacy, making it seem that data is not nearly as safe or private as initially thought.
Whatsapp, a popular alternative to messaging, has recently enabled end-end encryption in their service. This new method of protecting your communication means that the key to the encryption is only known by the sender and the recipient, the message is not decrypted when it reaches the server and is even inaccessible to Whatsapp.
This provides a safer method of contact than the unencrypted service we currently have in text messaging. When a text message is sent, it goes straight to the cell phone provider and is stored on the server. This message is then sent to the recipients phone. It is in plain text along the whole journey, meaning that anyone could read it.
Law enforcement versus technology sector:
The timing of this encryption is the interesting part, as it closely follows the battle between the FBI and Apple. A federal judge ordered Apple to help the FBI access the iphone belonging to Syed Farook, one of the people responsible for the terrorist attack on San Bernardino, California. Apple refused and outlined the privacy and security implications of allowing authorities access to a locked iphone, exclaiming it would require new software and would essentially ‘be a master key capable of opening millions of locks.’ Tim Cook, Apple’s Chief Executive argued that if the FBI had access to this one iphone, nothing would stop them from doing it to many others. It seems as though Whatsapp is painting a target on its back as this newly enabled end-end encryption means that nobody will have access to the data or communications between people.