WhatsApp, Messenger.. The European Court of Human Rights opposes the obligation to provide keys to decrypt messages

The ECHR agrees with privacy defenders. According to her, weakening encryption at the request of the authorities risks undermining the fundamental rights of citizens.


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The European Court of Human Rights objects to messaging services providing the keys to decrypt messages.  Illustrative photo.  (YUICHIRO CHINO / MOMENT RF / GETTY IMAGES)

This decision by the European Court of Human Rights on February 13 marks a significant step in the debate on digital privacy. It all started in October 2017 when the Russian security service (FSB) demanded that Telegram messaging provide the means to decode all electronic messages published by users. The request was issued after the death of 16 people in an attack in Saint Petersburg, while theThe terrorists communicated via Telegram, according to the FSB. ButThe creators of Telegram, Nikolai and Pavel Durov refuse to cooperate. And Russia, then a member of the ECHR, brought the case to court in 2019, before leaving the institution three years later, leaving the case pending.

Today, for digital messaging (WhatsApp, Messenger, Signal, or even Ovid), encryption is a security and confidentiality solution for conversations. Whether you are a political opponent, a business owner or an individual wishing to protect your privacy, encryption blocks any malicious attempt to read your messages and spy on your broadcast videos and photographs.

Impossible to target only suspects

For more than a decade, several countries, including the United States and Russia, have highlighted the alleged danger of encryption. This security would prevent the fight against organized crime and terrorism. Among the strong arguments, this would also protect child pornography spaces. For this example, encryption does not seem to be an insurmountable barrier. In France, theThe national gendarmerie put an end, in January 2024, to groups distributing child pornography on the web andThe arrested official nevertheless used Telegram messaging.

In January 2024, Canadian police attempted to break into three cell phones belonging to an individual suspected of computer crime. Over the course of a year, police tested more than 170 million passwords, with no results. Their request to increase the search time was rejected by the Ontario Supreme Court, finding that it would take billions of years to hope to find the correct entry key.

Although motivated by legitimate objectives, measures to weaken encryption arouse strong opposition. Critics argue that it is technically impossible to target only suspects without compromising the security of all users. The European Court of Human Rights has therefore ruled. Weakening encryption at the request of the authorities risks undermining the fundamental rights of citizens. She thus proves privacy defenders right.

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