French messaging efforts show how selfish governments actually are

smartphone data messaging

France is reportedly considering building its own encrypted messaging platform to protect itself from espionage, completing the full U-turn from last year’s efforts to limit the encryption powers of messaging services.

According to Reuters, a spokesperson from the Digital Ministry confirmed 20 civil servants are testing a new, encrypted messaging app which has been designed by a state-owned developer. The aim will be for every government employee to use the platform by the summer.

This is certainly a change in opinion compared to last year. During August, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and German Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière met to discuss how data protection laws could be altered to allow intelligence agencies greater insight into the lives of citizens. The idea would have been to build a back-door in the encryption software, which would allow spooks access and permanently weaken the security feature of the platforms.

It would appear that spying on its own citizens is perfectly acceptable, but the threat of President Emmanuel Macron’s lunch order leaking to the Daily Mail is one step too far. We understand and accept certain aspects of government need to be kept under the strictest of confidence, but privacy is a right to European citizens, even from elected officials.

The ‘do what I say, not what I do’ attitude of governments around the world is starting to taste very bitter.

The French government version of an encrypted platform is based on opensource code found on the web, and could eventually be available for French citizens to use as well. What has not been confirmed is whether the encryption software has had a backdoor built into it, an objective for governments all around the work to improve snooping capabilities. If this was the case, it would surprise very few people, however it would also make the offering fundamentally flawed from the outset. A backdoor is a weakness in the security perimeter, which will eventually be found by hackers; nothing is 100% secure.

To date, French government employees have reportedly been using instant messaging applications from defence group and IT supplier Thales. Citadel instant messaging smartphone app is one offering listed on the website, though President Macron is supposedly a fan of the currently under-fire Telegram platform, which is facing a ban in Russia for refusing to hand over encryption keys to security services.

This is one example of a government which doesn’t like an idea until it benefits the bureaucratic machine. A government owned application will be designed with its own parameters and objectives in mind; this might be another way for intelligence agencies to poke their noses into places they are not wanted.

These agencies and governments have already proved incapable of cracking the encryption software of the likes of WhatsApp and Telegram, therefore a work-around would be required. Considering the scandal Facebook, owner of WhatsApp, is facing, this might prove to be a very good time to pry loyal users onto a platform with zero commercial interests and the promise of never being on your own.

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