If Brussels forces technology companies to weaken encryption, Signal will draw its conclusions, and the developer will leave Europe. Users do not have to worry immediately: technical measures such as proxy servers ensure that people retain access to the chat service.
That says Meredith Whittaker, the CEO of Signal, to the German medium NTV.
The pros and cons of encryption
End-to-end encryption means that only the sender and receiver can read a sent message. Security services and other authorities can’t eavesdrop on communications between two or more parties. In this way, users’ privacy is guaranteed, and their identity is protected. For critical journalists and human rights activists living in an authoritarian regime, end-to-end encryption is the way to protect against espionage.
Encryption also has a downside. Terrorists use it to plan attacks. Encryption can also be used to distribute hate speech, copyrighted material, or child pornography. Encryption makes it a lot more difficult for intelligence and security services to do their job. And that can have significant consequences for public order or national security.
For this reason, the European Commission is working on a legislative proposal to enable the detection of online child sexual abuse. One of the components that will most likely be included in the legislation is client-side device scanning. Images, videos, documents and other file types are then scanned before encryption is applied.
Broad coalition against European Commission plans
Privacy experts are very concerned about this. They fear that the bill will affect user privacy. The American interest group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) fears that the legislation is the first step to setting up a surveillance system. Ronald Cramer, professor of cryptology at Leiden University, called the idea of Brussels “a sliding scale.”
More than forty international organizations recently published an open letter expressing their concerns about the bill. They fear that fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, the right to privacy and freedom of the press will be at stake. “Encryption is a critical tool for user privacy, data security, online safety, press freedom, self-determination and free expression. Without encryption, users’ data and communications are accessible to law enforcement and malicious parties.
The House of Representatives also sees nothing in the bill from the European Commission. Lammer van Raan (PvdD) filed a motion in June 2022 to maintain end-to-end encryption. With the exception of the CDA, ChristenUnie and SGP, the entire House voted in favour of the motion.
Signal says it is doing everything it can to guarantee access to the service
Signal is now also involved in the discussion. CEO Meredith Whittaker says she finds it unacceptable if Brussels wants to force tech companies to weaken encryption. “If we are faced with the choice of weakening our encryption or leaving the EU, we will choose the latter,” she told German medium NTV.
The top woman does not think that technical measures will help to undo encryption. Proxy servers allow users to maintain access to their Signal account, including encryption. “Regardless of what the law says,” said Whittaker. A proxy server is a computer that acts as an intermediary between users and the Internet. They hide your IP address and help hide your identity and location.
It is not the first time that the CEO of Signal threatens to leave. When the UK government sent the Online Safety Bill to parliament, it made the same threat. “We will do everything we can to ensure that people in the UK can continue to access Signal. Anything but breaking our privacy promises,” Whittaker said on Twitter .