France and Germany lobby to break WhatsApp encyption

European lawmakers have set their sights on a new target in the battle against terrorism: encryption.

France and Germany are going to put pressure over the European Union to let them break one of the most central technologies of the internet by forcing the technology companies to limit encryption used to keep messages private.

Interior minister of France, Bernard Cazeneuve met his German counterpart, Thomas de Maizière in Paris on Tuesday (August 24) to discuss new measures that would limit the use of encrypted communications across the EU. The proposal will be raised in the next month’s EU summit.

“We propose that the EU Commission studies the possibility of a legislative act introducing rights and obligations for operators to force them to remove illicit content or decrypt messages as part of investigations, whether or not they are based in Europe,” said Cazeneuve.

The step is being taken to monitor communications between suspected militants and people who are being investigated.

Measures such as phone taps have long been used by counter-terrorism officials but the growth of online platforms and apps with end-to-end encryption as a standard feature has made it almost impossible to read the private messages on Facebook’s WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessages.

As details of Paris and Brussels attacks have emerged out, it has become evident that such encrypted messages are vital to how jihadis prosecute their violence in Europe. French homeland security chief, Patrick Calvar said the encrypted messages were impossible to be read. The ISIS cell responsible for the November attack used WhatsApp and Telegram which provides end-to-end encryption.

But privacy advocates have repeatedly said that it wouldn’t be possible to weaken encryption only for those that are under investigation. Allowing authorities to read any specific message also stops all of them from being fully private.

Moreover, activists say that such technology is central to keep all behaviour on the internet private ensuring banking transactions and other important and intimate information is secure.

Officials in Washington have bemoaned the spread of encryption since the Edward Snowden leaks in 2013 triggered a backlash against intelligence agencies’ vast and previously secret internet snooping operations.

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