Iran's government demands WhatsApp data

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 31 May 2016

The Iranian government wants the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp to move all of its data to the government's servers by the end of the year.

Many social networks are already banned in the country, however according to TechCrunch messaging apps such as WhatsApp and also Telegram have become incredibly popular in Iran, and the government has no control over what is said on these platforms. By using these apps, in particular Telegram, users can create groups that reach hundreds of people.

It may not be that simple for the Iranian government however, because WhatsApp recently revealed it has completed its end-to-end encryption roll-out. This means that the content of users messages are not stored in plaintext on WhatsApp’s servers. Nor is the company able to decrypt users’ messages to access them since it does not hold the encryption keys.

This was a clear move by the messaging player to up user security off the back of several government moves globally, which sees them try and violate users privacy.

TechCrunch has called encryption the cornerstone of the freedom of speech, adding that every time the FBI asks for a backdoor, the FBI also endangers countless numbers of people around the world who just want to be able to criticise their government freely.

This latest move by the Iranian government comes a few months after Apple stood up to the US government over the encryption of its phones, after the US government demanded access to an individual's iPhone after a mass shooting.

The US eventually found a way to get into the phone, however at the time Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) CEO Jodie Sangster explained to AdNews that this case provided an important litmus in how society will determine data access and usage in the future.

“It doesn't just set a dangerous precedent within the country it's happening in, it sets a dangerous precedent for other countries looking at this sort of thing,” she says.

“It is a worrying precedent because there has to be some sort of safeguard in place. It's fine when data is being used for the prevention of crime or terrorism, but if you remove safeguards around that then it can be used for all sorts of different purposes.”

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