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WhatsApp Adds End-To-End Encryption To Its Communication Services


Law enforcement is locked out of another kind of technology. This time it's not an iPhone, but an app. WhatsApp is a popular platform to share messages, pictures and videos. Now it's turned on full-data encryption. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: WhatsApp has a billion users - that is about 1 in 7 people on planet Earth. And if you have the latest version of WhatsApp, you get full end-to-end encryption by default. That means only the sender and intended recipient can read messages - nobody else.

MOXIE MARLINSPIKE: WhatsApp can't read them. Nobody that hacks WhatsApp can read them. No governments that come to WhatsApp can read them.

SHAHANI: Moxie Marlinspike is founder of Open Whisper Systems.

MARLINSPIKE: No attackers who are watching the network can read them.

SHAHANI: Marlinspike designed the encryption technology that WhatsApp is now using. He says people don't realize their messages can be read by outsiders, and this change is getting the product aligned with consumer expectation.

MARLINSPIKE: You know, when celebrities take naked pictures of themselves and, you know, they have them on their phone, their expectation is that other people aren't going to be able to access those images. And, you know, people are, I think, justifiably angry when that turns out not to be the case.

SHAHANI: Marlinspike says this move does make WhatsApp a warrant-proof space. The company can't hand over data for a criminal investigation, even if a U.S. court tells them to. It also challenges other messaging platforms to follow suit. Facebook, the parent company of WhatsApp, runs Facebook messenger. Google has Google Hangouts. Neither uses end-to-end encryption, so the data stored in private chats is open to police and hackers.

MARLINSPIKE: I mean, I don't think anybody would want their entire chat history leaked onto the Internet. And end-to-end encryption is really the only thing that is going to prevent that from happening in the future.

SHAHANI: The Justice Department declined to comment. But the head of the FBI and other law-enforcement leaders have criticized encryption as a tool that lets criminals go dark, so to speak - hide their tracks. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.