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Will Pegasus snoopgate strengthen WhatsApp's encryption case against Indian govt?

WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart stresses on end-to-end encryption after global report

WHATSAPP-SECURITY/ Representational image | Reuters

WhatsApp and the Indian government are at loggerheads over end-to-end encryption and the new IT Rules. The rule asks companies like WhatsApp to put in place a mechanism that will allow them, or the government, to trace a message to the first person who sent that message. However, that would mean WhatsApp will have to break its end-to-end encryption on messages. The breakdown will render WhatsApp an insecure messaging platform. 

Now, the latest investigative report by a global media consortium, including The Wire from India, has claimed that state-sponsored spying on organisations and individuals, including journalists, politicians, human rights activists, heads of states, and government officials is more than rampant with the help of Pegasus, a spyware technology invented by Israel-based NSO Group. 

However, the revelations might just have strengthened WhatsApp's case against the Indian government's rule for breaking end-to-end encryption. In a series of tweets calling for a global movement to check on companies such as NSO, WhatsApp chief Will CathCart said, "That's why we continue to defend end-to-end encryption so tirelessly. To those who have proposed weakening end-to-end encryption: deliberately weakening security will have terrifying consequences for us all," he said.  

"NSO’s dangerous spyware is used to commit horrible human rights abuses all around the world and it must be stopped. This is a wake up call for security on the internet. The mobile phone is the primary computer for billions of people. Governments and companies must do everything they can to make it as secure as possible. Our security and freedom depend on it," Cathcart further said on Twitter. 

"We need more companies, and, critically, governments, to take steps to hold NSO Group accountable. Once again, we urge a global moratorium on the use of unaccountable surveillance technology now. It’s past time.... Human rights defenders, tech companies and governments must work together to increase security and hold the abusers of spyware accountable. Microsoft was bold in their actions last week," he said.

Referring to WhatsApp's charges against the NSP Group in 2019, Cathcart said, "At the time, we worked with @CitizenLab, who identified 100+ cases of abusive targeting of human rights defenders and journalists in 20+ countries.  But today's reporting shows that the true scale of abuse is even larger, and with terrifying national security implications."

The fact that most of the malicious links are sent to the victims phones via WhatsApp makes it a really significant case for Cathcart and his team to deal with. If anything, Cathcart's statements show that the Facebook-owned company will continue to vehemently defend the encryption case in India. 

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