End-to-end decryption: Can WhatsApp hinder your privacy?

Deepika Padukone's two years old WhatsApp chat, which was retrieved as evidence in the drugs case, is what the government has in the name of "data."
End-to-end decryption: Can WhatsApp hinder your privacy?
The media and message back-up on any Cloud services aren't protected by WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption.Unsplash

Government data is a vital resource which can have a positive effect on democracy, civic engagement, public services, innovation and also help in measuring the government's performance. In fact, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has insisted the usage of data for the development of the country.

PM Modi in the Howdy Modi event in Texas, in September 2019, said, "Today it is said that data is the new oil. I will also add that data is the new gold. Industry 4.0 is focused on data. Now, please listen carefully, if there is one country in the world where data is cheapest, then that is India… In fact, digital India is India's new face to the world."

In his speech at the World Economic Forum in January 2018, he said, "Today, data is the real wealth and it is being said that whoever acquires and controls the data will have hegemony in the future. The global flow of data is creating big opportunities as well as challenges… Data is a huge asset but the flow of global data is creating the biggest opportunities and the greatest challenges."

Last month, Shashi Tharoor tweeted saying that the ruling party has changed the meaning of the term NDA to "No Data Available".

Several lost their jobs during the COVID-19 crises, numerous migrants workers died on their journey back home, many farmers died by suicide, MSME's shut down during the pandemic. However, these are just a few instances where no trace of data is available in the government records.

However, Deepika Padukone's two years old WhatsApp chat, which was retrieved as evidence in the drugs case, is what the government has in the name of "data."

India currently has no clear data security or privacy regulations. In India, however, the Information Technology Act of 2000 and (Indian) contract law of 1872 are applicable laws on data security.

Many people questioned the release of WhatsApp chats in the media as a breach of privacy. Well, if we look at it technically, the government shouldn't have released the chats in the media domain. But this leads to one question: If the government can have access to the chats, then how is the WhatsApp end to end encrypted?

What does end to end encryption mean?

It means that only the sender and the receiver of the chat can read the messages. No one can intercept your chats. When a sender sends a message, it gets encrypted which means that no one apart from the sender and the receiver, not even WhatsApp or any other third party apps, can read your messages. When a sender sends a message, WhatsApp coverts it into a secret code that no one can understand. When the receiver receives it, WhatsApp decodes it and shows the original message that was initially sent by the sender.

So how did the NCB get hold of Deepika Padukone's WhatsApp chat?

NCB (Narcotics Control Bureau) who is probing the 'drugs nexus' in Bollywood retrieved two-year-old WhatsApp chats of the actress is that she willingly gave her phone to the authorities. But it is still unclear that what happened inside the interrogation room.

The other way how NCB might have retrieved the Deepika's chat is through a cloud backup.

In a statement, WhatsApp spokesperson had said, "WhatsApp protects your messages with end-to-end encryption so that only you and the person you're communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between can access it, not even WhatsApp. It's important to remember that people sign up on WhatsApp using only a phone number, and WhatsApp doesn't have access to your message content.

"WhatsApp follows guidance provided by operating system manufacturers for on-device storage and we encourage people to take advantage of all the security features provided by operating systems such as strong passwords or biometric IDs to prevent third parties from accessing content stored on device," he added.

WhatsApp says on its security settings that there is end-to-end encryption for all their messages, but the media and message back-up on Google Drive or any such Cloud services aren't protected by WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption.

To access encrypted WhatsApp data, security and investigating agencies can take a user's phone and create a 'clone' of it on another device. This gives them access even to deleted messages with a 'mirror image' of a phone after which all data can be transferred to the separate device.

Thereafter, it is only a matter of retrieving data which agencies do by involving forensic experts. They retrieve all kinds of data like phone call records, messages, images, WhatsApp chats, as well as the data on the phone's Cloud service, like Google Drive or iCloud, including anything that has been deleted.

So as far as privacy is concerned, if you completely want to be off the records and don't have a soft corner of archiving your chats, then you are good to go.

With inputs from IANS

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