Cops Can Still Troll Your WhatsApp Chats, Partially
Though WhatsApp will provide end-toend encryption, agencies can still get metadata
New Delhi: Messaging service WhatsApp’s decision to roll out end-to-end encryption for over 1 billion subscribers has been hailed as a positive step by users across the world, although things are set to get tougher for law enforcement and investigative agencies in India seeking to track terrorists.
“It was anyway difficult to get any kind of data from WhatsApp and now it is going to be even more difficult,” said a person familiar with the working of these agencies, who did not wish to be identified.
Encryption scrambles data such as text messages, photos and documents and makes them unintelligible for unintended recipients. A service that is encrypted end-toend cannot be monitored or intercepted. No one, except the people or groups communicating with each other, can access the data. If telecom companies, internet providers or even companies that run messaging services try to intercept the message, all they would get is garbled data.
While chats will not be accessible, associated information known as metadata will be available, such as when the conversations took place, the identities of senders and recipients, their locations, mobile numbers, profile photos and address books, which may be useful for security agencies.
“Definitely for law enforcement it means a big headache, but the metadata is there and with metadata, if you have a couple of other bits of information, you can piece it together,” said Sunil Abraham, executive director at Bengaluru-based research organisation Centre for Internet and Society. “Agencies can get the metadata, but they won’t get the payload unless they’re able to compromise the device. And that intelligence agencies like NSA (National Security Agency of the US) have been able to do in the past.” While encryption offers privacy and security to users, it is the bane of law enforcement agencies globally, as exemplified most recently and notably by the AppleFBI dispute in the US. The Federal Encryption scrambles data such as text messages, photos & documents, and makes sure no one but people part of the conversation can read it Yup. They will not be able to read the conversation but info like metadata will be available If you don’t know, metadata contains information like when the conversations took place, the identities of senders & recipients, locations, mobile numbers and profile photos.
Bureau of Investigation asked Apple to weaken its encryption to access a dead terrorist’s iPhone data and after the company refused, hacked into the device with help from a third party.
SUNILABRAHAM Executive director, Centre for Internet and Society With metadata, if you have a couple of other bits of information, you can piece it together
In India, it is difficult to bring USbased companies to the negotiating table. “We have had minimum cooperation from WhatsApp. All the data is controlled in the US and they rarely hand over the data that we request. We don’t ask them for content. We only ask for metadata,” said another person familiar with the process who declined to be identified.
While the Indian IT Act gives wide-ranging powers to the government to ask for access to encrypted information, very few requests for information take the legal route. One reason is the long time that it takes to process such requests — on average, over three years – and the other, especially in the case of WhatsApp, is little or no cooperation, according to government officials.
Hi, WhatsApp has enabled encryption, what does it mean? What are you saying, law enforcement can’t read anything?
Now, what is metadata?