Frontline police officers say a move by the instant messaging platform WhatsApp to encrypt chats is unlikely to affect crime detection in Hong Kong.
WhatsApp announced that from now on, every form of chat on the platform including phone calls and video and group chats would be encrypted by default. It means nobody except the persons who send and receive the messages can read or view the messages as long as they use the latest version of WhatsApp released on April 1.
WhatsApp says its billion users are now snoop-proof, with ‘full end-to-end encryption’
“End-to-end encryption helps make communication via WhatsApp private – sort of like a face-to-face conversation,” the announcement said. “While we recognise the important work of law enforcement in keeping people safe, efforts to weaken encryption risk exposing people’s information to abuse from cybercriminals, hackers and rogue states.”
With this encryption function in place, cybersecurity experts said law enforcement officers would have to access messages off suspects’ phones, instead of obtaining the information directly from WhatsApp.
“It’s probably going to be frustrating for law enforcement, because in the past all they had to do was go to WhatsApp, but now they have to go to the suspect and get information from the suspect,” said cybersecurity expert Larry Salibra.
But a veteran police officer in the city told the Post that encryption did not conflict with crime detection as they always sought a warrant from a court to seize suspects’ possessions.
“The warrant is not for getting conversation records from the application developer, but more often for searching through personal belongings like computers and phones,” the police source told.
“That way we can trace conversation records, regardless of encryption.”
The officer also said technology devices would be seized as exhibits upon arrest, which could also help dig out the conversation history of suspects.