Several high-profile tech companies are among the signers of an open letter to the GCHQ, or Government Communications Headquarters, which is the U.K.'s version of the NSA, opposing the concept of a "Ghost Protocol." Those plans called for tech companies to allow law enforcement access to encrypted messages by including the government as a third-party that would secretly receive a copy of the messages without the other parties' knowledge.
Apple, Google, and WhatsApp have each joined 44 other organizations in a public condemnation of the proposal, which would require companies who provide secure messaging to undermine those services in order to allow the government to snoop on your private conversations.
Apple, for one, is well-known for its stance against allowing the government to access users' data, even facing off with the FBI over access to the iPhone of Syed Farook, the shooter in the San Bernardino attack. Apple stood its ground in the face of a backlash from political leaders, forcing the government to find an alternative way to get what it wanted.
Google and WhatsApp have both faced criticism for how they handle user data security, with WhatsApp recently reporting a vulnerability that would allow hackers to access a smartphone's microphone or data without a user ever knowing. WhatsApp has since updated its software to protect against the flaw.
The attack on privacy.
The reality is that your privacy is under assault on a variety of fronts. Companies crave access to your personal information because it helps them better understand who you are, which lets them better target you with advertisements.
Bad actors want access to private information for nefarious and criminal purposes.
Even governments want the ability to know who you communicate with and what you say, presumably in order to better protect you. It begs the question, however, of how much intrusion we are willing to accept in the name of national security.
It's easy to argue the government should have access to communications between terrorists or criminals to prevent attacks or investigate crimes. The problem is there is no way to do that without violating overall user privacy protections. You can't have a secure system that fully protects your privacy while also having a backdoor that lets the government in whenever it sees fit.
True encryption means that even the service provider is unable to access your information. If they could, you would only have the illusion of privacy, not the actual benefit.
An encouraging step and a reminder.
While tech companies have been criticized for their privacy protections and how they handle your data, it is an encouraging sign that they are standing up for user privacy and opposing the government's self-described need for easy access to your messages.
As a business owner, it's an important reminder that your brand reputation is only as valuable as the trust you build with your customers. Fighting for principles that protect your customers' information is worth it in a world where frequent attacks on privacy mean that trust has become the most valuable of business assets.