Should governments be given keys to access our messages?

(BBC) – Governments in the UK, US and Australia have asked Facebook, in an open letter, to roll back plans to bring end-to-end encryption to all of its platforms.

Facebook, rocked by privacy scandals, responds that everyone has the right to a private conversation.

It is the latest in an age-old battle between privacy and safety, which has played out between governments and tech firms ever since digital communication became mass market.

What is end-to-end encryption?

As the name suggests, this is a secure way of sending information so that only the intended receiver can read it.

The information is encrypted while it is still on the sender’s device and is only decrypted when it reaches the person intended. Nobody, not even the platform owner, has the keys to unlock it.

It was introduced partly as a response to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations that the intelligence services in the UK and US had many ways to intercept communication and were doing so on a mass scale.

Why has this become an issue now?

The UK and the US have just signed an historic agreement to give each other a much faster way of getting hold of private conversations – cutting down the process time from months or years, to weeks or days.

But that agreement could potentially be rendered a bit useless, if they cannot read the scrambled messages.