In response to the FBI's attack on Apple's use of encryption-based security methods, some of the biggest names in technology are reported to be planning an expanded use of encryption for user data that passes through, or is stored on, their products and services.
As The New York Times reports, the DOJ is locked in a "prolonged standoff" with popular messaging service WhatsApp over access to user data.
Facebook, Google and Snapchat are among the largest tech brands working to increase privacy and security measures for users, while Apple defends against an intensifying legal assault by the U.S. government.
The Guardian reports:
The projects could antagonize authorities just as much as Apple's more secure iPhones, which are currently at the center of the San Bernardino shooting investigation. They also indicate the industry may be willing to back up their public support for Apple with concrete action.
Within weeks, Facebook's messaging service WhatsApp plans to expand its secure messaging service so that voice calls are also encrypted, in addition to its existing privacy features. The service has some one billion monthly users. Facebook is also considering beefing up security of its own Messenger tool.
Snapchat, the popular ephemeral messaging service, is also working on a secure messaging system and Google is exploring extra uses for the technology behind a long-in-the-works encrypted email project.
Engineers at major technology firms, including Twitter, have explored encrypted messaging products before only to see them never be released because the products can be hard to use – or the companies prioritized more consumer-friendly projects. But they now hope the increased emphasis on encryption means that technology executives view strong privacy tools as a business advantage – not just a marketing pitch.
The Guardian's trend piece here does acknowledge that all of these projects began before the FBI and Justice Department entered a court battle with Apple, over demands that Apple assist the government in backdooring one of the suspected San Bernardino terrorists' iPhones.
Apple is scheduled to appear in a federal court in California later this month to fight the government's order.
Over at WIRED, Andy Greenberg spoke with Nate Cardozo, attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "This is definitely the first in what we can be confident will be a multi-pronged attack on apps," says Nate. "The most important thing for developers to take away is that they need to develop their apps to make this kind of thing very difficult."
Cardozo warns that the WhatsApp order, coming on the heels of the Apple case, signals that the Justice Department is taking a more aggressive stance toward software companies that use end-to-end encryption to put the the power to decipher communications exclusively in device-owners hands. He says he's worked with "a handful" of those companies over the last 18 months who have all have been contacted by the FBI and warned that pedophiles, criminals or terrorists had used their privacy-preserving app, and asked that the app be re-engineered to give law enforcement access to "plaintext"—decrypted communications. "They say, 'If you don't cooperate with us and modify your system to give us plaintext going forward…you'll have to face the public consequences that the FBI can come out and say you hindered an investigation,'" Cardozo describes the FBI's position. "That's a strong threat."