Forbes contributor Kalev Leetaru argues that “the encryption debate is already over — Facebook ended it earlier this year.”
The ability of encryption to shield a user’s communications rests upon the assumption that the sender and recipient’s devices are themselves secure, with the encrypted channel the only weak point… [But] Facebook announced earlier this year preliminary results from its efforts to move a global mass surveillance infrastructure directly onto users’ devices where it can bypass the protections of end-to-end encryption. In Facebook’s vision, the actual end-to-end encryption client itself such as WhatsApp will include embedded content moderation and blacklist filtering algorithms. These algorithms will be continually updated from a central cloud service, but will run locally on the user’s device, scanning each cleartext message before it is sent and each encrypted message after it is decrypted. The company even noted that when it detects violations it will need to quietly stream a copy of the formerly encrypted content back to its central servers to analyze further, even if the user objects, acting as true wiretapping service…
If Facebook’s model succeeds, it will only be a matter of time before device manufacturers and mobile operating system developers embed similar tools directly into devices themselves, making them impossible to escape… Governments would soon use lawful court orders to require companies to build in custom filters of content they are concerned about and automatically notify them of violations, including sending a copy of the offending content. Rather than grappling with how to defeat encryption, governments will simply be able to harness social media companies to perform their mass surveillance for them, sending them real-time alerts and copies of the decrypted content.
Putting this all together, the sad reality of the encryption debate is that after 30 years it is finally over: dead at the hands of Facebook. If the company’s new on-device content moderation succeeds it will usher in the end of consumer end-to-end encryption and create a framework for governments to outsource their mass surveillance directly to social media companies, completely bypassing encryption.
In the end, encryption’s days are numbered and the world has Facebook to thank.