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Iran forces messaging apps to move data to Iranian servers

TechCrunch TechCrunch 30/05/2016 Romain Dillet

Companies behind popular messaging apps have a year to move all the data they have on Iranian users onto servers in Iran, according to Reuters. This raises concerns about privacy.

The Iranian government wants to be able to track private and semi-private conversations on messaging apps. Many social networks are already blocked in Iran, but it looks like the government wants even more control.

In particular, apps like Whatsapp and Telegram have become incredibly popular in Iran, and the government has no control over what is said on these platforms. Users can create groups on Telegram and reach hundreds of people.

As always, the devil is in the details. Moving servers to Iran might not be enough as Whatsapp recently completed its rollout of end-to-end encryption. With end-to-end encryption, Whatsapp can’t even read the content of communications as they are encrypted and only Whatsapp users involved in these conversations can decrypt them.

Apple’s iMessage is another example of an encrypted messaging protocol. Apple isn’t able to hand out messages to a government.

Similarly, Telegram lets you start “secret conversations” with end-to-end encryption. As long as Telegram users in Iran are aware of this feature, the Iranian government wouldn’t be able to read those conversations. By default, Telegram conversations aren’t encrypted on Telegram’s servers.

Like in other countries with internet restrictions, there are ways to create an account on Facebook and tweet stuff. You can install a VPN tool so that Iranian ISPs can’t see you’re browsing these websites. And now, the Iranian government wants to play a new cat-and-mouse game with messaging apps.

Today’s news proves once again that encryption is a cornerstone of the freedom of speech. Every time the FBI asks for a backdoor, the FBI also endangers countless of people around the world who just want to be able to criticize their government freely.

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