The Trump Administration Is Coming After WhatsApp

Attorney General William Barr has made clear his desire to dismantle the security of our encryption services

Trevor Timm
Published in
4 min readAug 1, 2019
Photo: SOPA Images/Getty Images

JJust as Americans face yet another devastating data breach — this time with the Capital One credit card servers — the Trump administration seems bent on weakening our collective cybersecurity even further.

It’s hard to count the number of recent devastating cybersecurity episodes, whether it’s on Capital One, Equifax, or the U.S. government itself. With these attacks on an uptick, it’s been encouraging to see a corresponding rise in chat applications that offer end-to-end encryption — a boon to everyone’s privacy and security.

Messaging apps like WhatsApp, iMessage, and Signal provide consumers strong safeguards, where everyone’s messages are encrypted by default — even the companies that own the message applications can’t access them. These services are collectively providing billions of people with protections to prevent their messages from landing in the next massive data dump (not to mention helping to protect everyone from government mass surveillance). Device encryption, too, is becoming standard on cellphones. Even Apple, for example, can’t unlock an iPhone that is encrypted with a passcode.

But Attorney General William Barr wants to change all that. Last week, he delivered an ominous speech in which he claimed the U.S. government’s patience with tech companies offering strong encryption is wearing thin, and that a law banning strong encryption or requiring companies build in back doors for the government could soon become a reality.

Even though Barr said improving cybersecurity was a “national imperative” — he added that the government would “welcome these improvements to privacy and security, and will work to preserve and strengthen them” — he then spent the entirety of his talk explaining the government’s desire to weaken these same technologies that are protecting billions of people so that it might gain access to conversations when it pleases.

“By enabling dangerous criminals to cloak their communications and activities behind an essentially impenetrable digital shield, the…



Trevor Timm
Writer for

Trevor Timm is the executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation. His writing has appeared the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Intercept.