The European Commission doesn’t want its staff using WhatsApp or iMessage for internal communications. Instead, they must start using end-to-end-encrypted messaging app Signal as part of a push toward greater security.
“Signal has been selected as the recommended application for public instant messaging,” noted an instruction that reportedly appeared on internal EC messaging boards in early February.
Signal was developed in 2013 with a focus on privacy. On Signal, conversations are fully encrypted by default, along with metadata with information such as who you are talking to. Messages can be made to self-destruct and can also be sent anonymously. Evidence of how little data it holds was seen in 2016. That year, Signal was subpoenaed and only had access to data about when an account was created and the last date a user accessed its servers.
“It’s like Facebook’s WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage but it’s based on an encryption protocol that’s very innovative,” Bart Preneel, cryptography expert at the University of Leuven, told Politico, which first reported the story. “Because it’s open-source, you can check what’s happening under the hood,” he added.
The use of Signal by EU staff is recommended primarily for communication sent by staff to people outside the institution.
The battle over encryption
Apple and WhatsApp are no slouches when it comes to privacy, either. Apple in particular has been particularly outspoken about privacy as a fundamental human right. Over the years, Apple has taken a hard stance against lawmakers’ demands to add backdoors to encryption.
Interestingly, while the EU is seemingly keen to keen correspondence private, it’s not always been unanimously on the side of privacy. A December 2019 article for Politico notes that:
“Some European Union governments are mulling a revisit of so-called data retention rules, requirements that telecom providers keep hold of people’s online messages for a set period of time in case law enforcement agencies need to access them.”
The fact that the EU is promoting Signal one the one hand, while some lawmakers are battling against strong encryption on the other is… interesting. In the US, Apple has faced multiple legal challenges when it comes to its pro-privacy stance on encryption. That battle is still ongoing and has still not yet been settled.
Signal is available to download via the App Store.