Signal, an app for encrypting texts and calls on smartphones, is coming to Android phones.
Used by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the app — and the company behind it, Open Whisper Systems — has infuriated intelligence and national security agencies around the world with its ultra-secure encryption technology.
Open Whisper systems previously operated two apps. One, “Redphone,” allowed voice calls to be encrypted, while another, “TextSecure,” did the same for text messages. Now they have been combined into a single, user-friendly app. Open Whisper’s founder, the flamboyantly-pseudonymed “Moxie Marlinspike” told Wired, “mostly this was just about complexity. It’s easier to get people to install one app than two.”
Open Whisper’s encryption technology has been adopted by WhatsApp, the phenomenally popular online messaging app. With WhatsApp installed on almost half a billion Android devices, this was a significant milestone for the company. According to Wired, TextSecure has also been downloaded independently to “at least a million” Android devices.
Edward Snowden is a firm believer in encryption as a means of foiling the attempts of national governments to monitor their citizens online. “Encryption works” he said in an online Guardian Q&A two years ago. “Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.”
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 2, 2015
Recently, defenders of privacy on the internet have endured a spate of bad news. Last week, the US Senate passed CISA, a bill that one senator claimed would “virtually guarantee” that the private online information of ordinary citizens would be shared by the government. The ‘Snooper’s Charter,’ which would grant similar powers to the British police, is soon to be introduced to the UK Parliament.
There’s also been further confirmation that the auto-deleting photosharing app Snapchat is not the ultra-discreet form of communication that some users believed it to be.
Users may find reassurance in the knowledge that Signal, and the rest of Open Whisper’s encryption technologies, continue to infuriate government intelligence agencies. Earlier this year, British Prime Minister David Cameron implied that WhatsApp could be banned due to its use of Open Whisper’s encryption technology, although the UK government has since publicly backtracked on this proposal. The rise of encrypted communication has also caused alarm in the US, where the director of the FBI has called for a “debate” about requiring companies like WhatsApp to insert “backdoors” into their encrypted software that could be accessed by government agencies.
It’ll be difficult for governments to install any backdoors on Signal. The application is open source, so any backdoor written into the code would be quickly detected by the outside world. Little wonder that it’s Snowden’s favourite communications app.