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Tech giants aren't happy with GCHQ's proposal to eavesdrop on encrypted chat. Tech giants aren't happy with GCHQ's proposal to eavesdrop on encrypted chat. Mashable.Com

Google, Apple say no to UK intelligence agency’s plan to listen in on encrypted chats

Jun 01, 2019

Google, Apple, Microsoft, WhatsApp and numerous other companies and organizations have publicly opposed a proposal by the UK's intelligence agency GCHQ to open up encrypted communication to the government.

In an open letter to GCHQ, dated May 22, the group addresses a proposal published by GCHQ in November 2018. While the letter says that the "principles set forth by GCHQ officials are an important step in the right direction," it criticizes the proposal for “silently adding a law enforcement participant to a group chat or call,” also referred to as the "ghost proposal."

Essentially, the GCHQ wants messaging services such as Facebook's Messenger, WhatsApp and Signal to put in a switch that would enable the UK government to snoop on any encrypted chat. And while the GCHQ's proposal insists this is "not about weakening encryption or defeating the end-to-end nature of the service," Google, Apple and other signees of the letter claim that such a proposal would "pose serious threats to cybersecurity and thereby also threaten fundamental human rights, including privacy and free expression."

The letter lists several reasons why the ghost proposal is a horrible idea. It undermines the authentication process and it could introduce new (unintentional) security flaws into encrypted communication systems. It would also undermine users' trust into such systems, and opens up new avenues for abuse — would you trust your encrypted chat to be really private if you knew there could be a government official reading every word you wrote?

In conclusion, the signees of the letter urge GCHQ to abandon the ghost proposal, as well as "avoid any alternate approaches that would similarly threaten digital security and human rights."

Besides the tech giants listed above, the signees of the open letter include civil society organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Human Rights Watch, as well as several security experts.

In response, Ian Levy, one of the authors of the proposal, told The Guardian that "we welcome this response to our request for thoughts on exceptional access to data — for example to stop terrorists. The hypothetical proposal was always intended as a starting point for discussion. We will continue to engage with interested parties and look forward to having an open discussion to reach the best solutions possible.”

 

Credit: Mashable.com

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