Encrypted Messaging App 'Signal' Approved for Use by U.S. Senate

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The U.S. Senate has approved popular encrypted messaging app Signal for official use by staffers in the chamber, it was revealed yesterday (via ZDNet).

The news came in a letter sent on Tuesday by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), known to be a staunch privacy advocate, in which he underlined his belief that "backdoor-free" encryption should be embraced by the state at all levels rather than something the government should fear.

I have long argued that strong, backdoor-free encryption is an important cybersecurity technology that the government should be embracing, not seeking to regulate or outlaw. My own Senate website, which has used HTTPS by default since 2015, was the first Senate website to do so. With the transition to default HTTPS for all of the other Senate websites and the recent announcement by your office that the end-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal is approved for Senate staff use, I am happy to see that you too recognize the important defensive cybersecurity role that encryption can play.
Signal by Open Whisper Systems is widely considered by security experts to be the most secure mobile messaging platform on iOS and Android, due to features like end-to-end encryption of text, picture, and video messages, support for private calling, and a lack of separate logins.

Members of Congress are for the most part exempt from record-keeping laws, so long as encrypted communications are not "historically valuable", or do not include committee documents. However, workers of the federal government and those who work directly with the president are governed by federal and presidential record-keeping laws. Indeed, communications over encrypted apps may fall foul of the Presidential Records Act, which requires staff to keep records of those conversations.

In January, The Wall Street Journal reported that political aides close to the president had been using Signal, but the White House declined to comment on whether the Trump administration has set up data retention policies for its encrypted messaging use.

Last year, Apple was embroiled in a public dispute with the FBI over a request to create a backdoor into iPhone software so that it could unlock the phone of the San Bernardino shooter. Apple refused to comply with the request, claiming that the code would lead to weaker smartphone encryption and inevitably get into the wrong hands.

Eventually the FBI backed down in its request and resorted to third-party hacking tools, but throughout the case, Apple CEO Tim Cook remained adamant on the company's continuing stance for user privacy, calling the FBI's request for entering an iPhone "the software equivalent of cancer".

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Article Link: Encrypted Messaging App 'Signal' Approved for Use by U.S. Senate
 

thisisnotmyname

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I like Signal, it's a good app. I don't buy the couple posters' suspicions above me that think this means they've been compromised, the organization seems committed to privacy. Rather, I applaud Senator Wyden's effort as I think he's setting the stage for any future actions to restrict end-to-end encryption by claiming hypocrisy given that the senate now approved it for themselves. This is a good thing.
 

einsteinbqat

macrumors 6502
Nov 3, 2012
315
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Encryption is OK for them, but not for the people? Hypocrites!

Then again, who knows. Conspiracy theorists would believe that the US government has a back door, and could we really hate them or have something against them for that? After Snowden, and Apple's affairs, it could be possible.

Let's be hopeful, and believe that this is a good thing for everyone. Hopefully…
 
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fitshaced

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How then can conversations using this means be acquired from a freedom of information request in years to come? I think this makes corrupt politics less risky and more likely.
 
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bluespark

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It's hard not to be cynical, especially in this political climate. So I'm hoping thisisnotmyname's point of view is the right one.
There are plenty of good guys in Congress, and Sen. Wyden is one of them. There's no reason to take this announcement as anything other than what it is.

That said, while encrypted communication is important, there needs to be a secure way to balance encryption with various legal recordkeeping requirements (including those not at issue here). There is a real opportunity for innovation in this space.
 
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OldSchoolMacGuy

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Jul 10, 2008
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Senators need a secure means of communication BUT they also require one that leaves a record of conversations. Closed door conversations aren't something typically promoted within our government (which is why the moves by the current administration have raised so many eyebrows).
 
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Sasparilla

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Jul 6, 2012
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Senator Wyden has been on the right side of mass surveillance and privacy from the beginning (one of the few & the only one in the intelligence committee in the Senate I believe). Getting their staff (guess Sens can't use it?) to use this great application means it'll be a little less likely to demand it be backdoor-ed with some boneheaded law.

How then can conversations using this means be acquired from a freedom of information request in years to come? I think this makes corrupt politics less risky and more likely.
Don't think you need Signal for that - at the Federal level its basically completely corrupt as is - via legal campaign contributions....just look at the GOP House / Senate / President signing that law taking away citizen internet privacy because ISP's lobbied them (~80% of electorate didn't want that). They're working on NetNeutrality now...because they've been paid off...completely corrupt...legally. Nothing to do with a encrypted messenger products. JMHO...
 
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thisisnotmyname

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More reason for elected officials to flock to and share sensitive information/conduct their personal sexting on work issued devices.
Was that wrong? Should I not have done that?

(definitely sarcasm)
[doublepost=1495036610][/doublepost]
How then can conversations using this means be acquired from a freedom of information request in years to come? I think this makes corrupt politics less risky and more likely.
but in practical terms if you are already willing to be corrupt in your duties I don't think you'll have any qualms about using an unapproved communication channel anyway. This will probably evolve into some sort of local storage/retention policy.
[doublepost=1495036764][/doublepost]
Just how popular is this app? I have never heard of it.
very popular for encrypted messaging and conversations. That and telegram are probably the leaders in the space (for those that focus to it, obviously other products have encryption end to end like WhatsApp and iMessage).
 

TheAppleFairy

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Mar 28, 2013
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The Clinton Archipelago unfortunately
very popular for encrypted messaging and conversations. That and telegram are probably the leaders in the space (for those that focus to it, obviously other products have encryption end to end like WhatsApp and iMessage).
Right now WhatsApp has almost 250,000 reviews (ratings) on the App Store. Signal is sitting on about 3,500.

Back to the first line of the OP "The U.S. Senate has approved popular encrypted messaging app Signal" I don't think it's that popular....Yet. That being said it might become popular now.
 

thisisnotmyname

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Right now WhatsApp has almost 250,000 reviews (ratings) on the App Store. Signal is sitting on about 3,500.

Back to the first line of the OP "The U.S. Senate has approved popular encrypted messaging app Signal" I don't think it's that popular....Yet. That being said it might become popular now.
The rough rule of thumb I've heard to estimate downloads is multiple the number of reviews by 100 (paid apps operate a bit differently but this is a free app). That would give 350,000 on iOS. I think that's still low as I remember reading something late last year stating that Signal had been downloaded nearly a million time after the election alone (I think that included Android as well though). Those aren't Facebook/WhatsApp numbers but I think that fits the definition of popular; Facebook owned apps are ubiquitous, it's playing on another level.

In any case, Signal, Telegram, Silent Circle, etc... market themselves firstly as a method of encrypted communication. I think that's a different market than WhatsApp that markets firstly as a chat platform but then added strong encryption. Within the first sub-genre Signal and Telegram are far and away the leaders.
 
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DaveTheRave

macrumors 6502a
May 22, 2003
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Just how popular is this app? I have never heard of it.
https://twitter.com/intent/tweet?in....html&tw_i=661313394906161152&tw_p=tweetembed
[doublepost=1495063102][/doublepost]
This is insane. Citizens deserve privacy. Not elected officials. Everything a a representative says while performing their job should be documented and archived.
How is this different than 2 Senators talking off-the-record in someone's office with the door shut and no recording devices turned on?
 
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4jasontv

macrumors 68030
Jul 31, 2011
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I wasn't going to be the first to say it, but sure, body cams that can't be turned off for all Senators.
 
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