End-End WhatsApp Encryption cannot stop state agencies from reading group messages

WhatsApp Encryption

The government through National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has set forth to arrest and prosecute WhatsApp Group Administrators administering some 21 county based WhatsApp groups across the country. The reason for the threats to arrest as explained over at Chetenet.com in the article NCIC is right to crack down on social media hate mongers is the spread of propaganda hate messages. The propaganda hate messages, as noted by Francis Ole Kaparo who is the chairman of NCIC, are targeting Kikuyus residing outside central province and non-Kikuyus residing in Limuru. Some of the WhatsApp Group Administrators have however reassured themselves that NCIC cannot get to them as WhatsApp guarantees an end-end WhatsApp Encryption, which would prevent anyone, including NCIC, from intercepting and reading messages being shared via WhatsApp.

The end-end WhatsApp encryption reads in part, “WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you’re communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp. This is because your messages are secured with a lock, and only the recipient and you have the special key needed to unlock and read them”.  The encryption is as valid for person to person WhatsApp communication and in WhatsApp Group communication.

With this in mind, certain group administrators have claimed both in Facebook and on Twitter that NCIC cannot get hold of the messages being shared through the groups. What these administrators forget is that NCIC is composed of human beings found at the levels of commissioners, investigators, agents and other employees who are part of the commission’s secretariat. These human beings are always very likely to be part of the WhatsApp groups in question.

Secondly, the group memberships in those WhatsApp groups are Kenyans, Kenyans who are tired of hate mongering and propaganda – hence would access and read the messages in those groups despite the existence of WhatsApp Encryption. For example, you may think that a particular WhatsApp group is composed of Luos only, and further assume that all those Luos in the WhatsApp group hate Kikuyus, and so should be stupid enough to buy into a propaganda alleging that non-Kikuyus are being slaughtered in Limuru. What you won’t realize both as the originator of such a propaganda message and the Group Administrator is that part of those Luos would screen shot such a message and share it with NCIC.

As an example, the now infamous propaganda song done by certain Kikuyu artists urging Kikuyus to protect their Uthamaki from Raila’s presidency was called out by Kikuyus themselves.

Then there is a question being asked by certain WhatsApp Group Administrators:

The straight answer is yes, you are responsible for every single message being shared in your WhatsApp Group. It is the responsibility of the WhatsApp Group administrator to set up the rules that guides the types of content to be shared in the group, and if a member violates those rules, the administrator must either warn the member, report the member to the authorities, or/and block the member from the group. Failure to do so makes you legally liable for any offences done in the group. This is the position that has been taken both in India and South Africa regarding offensive messages shared through WhatsApp Groups. Remember Kenya’s legal system has a lot of similarities with the Indian legal system.


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