France’s Macron government commissions bespoke encrypted messenger service
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French ministers reliant on commercial encrypted messaging services are to have their own service built for official business, following concerns that data breaches abroad could compromise government security.
According to reporting by Reuters, these fears stem from the fact that senior government officials have extensively used WhatsApp – which is owned by Facebook – and Telegram for private communications, both of which have servers located outside France. Tech-friendly French President Emmanuel Macron (who posed with two iPhones in his official portrait) is said to be an avid Telegram user.
A source close to Macron told Reuters that in his previous time in government, Macron was interested in adopting a messaging service so secure that even his rivals in government could not acquire his messages.
Earlier this year, French cyber-security company Thales prevented government officials from accessing WhatsApp or Telegram due to security concerns.
“We need to find a way to have an encrypted messaging service that is not encrypted by the US or Russia,” a spokesperson for the French digital ministry said.
“You start thinking about the potential breaches that could happen, as we saw with Facebook, so we should take the lead.”
Facebook, which owns popular encrypted messaging app WhatsApp, has come under heavy and sustained criticism in recent weeks following reports revealing that a data analytics company, Cambridge Analytica, was able to acquire the personal data of at least 87 million users in order to develop political advertising tools based on personality profiles.
Facebook has already come into conflict with Europe over its use of WhatsApp data. In 2016, the EU complained that Facebook had provided misleading information during its takeover of WhatsApp, having claimed that it would be unable to match Facebook user IDs with WhatsApp user IDs.
Meanwhile, Telegram has been criticised for employing an untried custom encryption protocol, for automatically storing messages on its servers and for not enabling end-to-end encryption of messages by default. WhatsApp messages are secured with end-to-end encryption across the entire platform.
A prototype of the new messaging app is currently being tested by approximately 20 ministers and civil servants. According to the digital ministry spokesperson, use of the government messaging service could become mandatory by summer.
The new app was developed by an unidentified state-employed developer using open-source code and could, the government suggests, eventually become available to everyone in France.
Last week, Telegram was blocked in Russia after refusing to comply with a government demand to share its users’ private data, reportedly in order to investigate serious crimes, such as terrorist attacks. Telegram has refused the request, arguing that Russia’s intelligence service is violating consumer rights.