Signal boss slams EU’s latest ‘upload moderation’ surveillance ploy

The president of messaging app Signal has slammed a revised European Union proposal that seeks to surveil encrypted chats under “new branding.”

The EU Commission first proposed the Chat Control law in mid-2022, attempting to push through rules that would effectively force messaging apps to create a backdoor to end-to-end encrypted messages.

The EU Parliament committee voted against mass screening encrypted telecommunications in November last year, but a revised draft of the law is now seeking an alternative method of mass scanning — named “upload moderation” to combat online child sexual abuse material.

In a June 17 statement, Signal President Meredith Whittaker argued the “upload moderation” label is simply another tactic to “undermine encryption” which makes it easier for hackers and hostile nation states to exploit private chats.

“Instead of using the previous term ‘client-side scanning,’ they’ve rebranded and are now calling it ‘upload moderation.’ Some are claiming that ‘upload moderation’ does not undermine encryption because it happens before your message or video is encrypted. This is untrue.”

Whittaker emphasized that end-to-end encryption is technology key to privacy “in an age of unprecedented state and corporate surveillance” and that it must be protected at all costs.

Source: Meredith Whittaker

The revised Chat Control law proposal would mandate telecommunication service operators to implement a method for “upload moderation” for the purposes of combating child exploitation material.

Ideas include subjecting everyone’s private chats to mass scanning against a state-curated database to an artificial intelligence model to detect unacceptable speech and content.

However, Whittaker said these “embarrassing branding exercises” are not fooling encryption experts, asking legislators to stop playing “word games.”

It’s irrelevant whether the breach results from tampering, forcing chats to pass through a surveillance system before encryption or through another means, Whittaker said.

“We can call it a backdoor, a front door, or ‘upload moderation.’ But whatever we call it, each one of these approaches creates a vulnerability that can be exploited by hackers and hostile nation states, removing the protection of unbreakable math and putting in its place a high-value vulnerability.”

“Let’s be very clear, again: mandating mass scanning of private communications fundamentally undermines encryption. Full stop.”

The Signal messaging app uses elliptic curve cryptography as the public key cryptosystem to support its end-to-end encryption messaging, audio and video services.

Last year, the firm hinted at leaving the United Kingdom market after it passed the Online Safety Bill, which could allow authorities a backdoor for end-to-end encryption services.

Signal has adopted cryptocurrencies — which use encryption to verify transactions — to the same extent that one of its rivals, Telegram, has in recent months.

However, it started accepting donations in Bitcoin, Ether and ten other coins in March 2021 to provide support to the Signal Technology Foundation.

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