Apple, Google and Motorola declined to comment on WikiLeaks’ claims. Samsung didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“The CIA/Wikileaks story today is about getting malware onto phones, none of the exploits are in Signal or break Signal Protocol encryption,” said Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of Signal. “This story isn’t about Signal or WhatsApp, but to the extent that it is, we see it as confirmation that what we’re doing is working.”
Telegram said on its website that the problem lies with operating systems and not encrypted messaging apps and that naming specific encrypted services is “misleading.” WhatsApp declined to comment.
As governments around the world impose new restrictions on internet freedom, it is worth remembering what is at stake. The present crackdown comes as digital platforms are being used in new and creative ways to advocate for change and, in many cases, save lives. Internet advocacy had real-world results in both democracies and authoritarian settings over the past year, and its impact was often most pronounced in countries where the information environment was more open online than off. In over two-thirds of the countries examined in this study, there was at least one significant example of individuals producing a tangible outcome by using online tools to fight for internet freedom, demand political accountability, advance women’s rights, support victims of unjust prosecution, or provide relief to those affected by natural disasters.
Fighting for internet freedom and digital rights
Social media were used effectively to fight for internet freedom in a variety of countries over the past year. In Thailand, over 150,000 people signed a Change.org petition against a government plan to centralize the country’s internet gateways, which would strengthen the authorities’ ability to monitor and censor online activity. As a result, the government announced that it had scrapped the plan, though skeptical internet users remain vigilant.
Using the hashtag #NoToSocialMediaBill, Nigerian digital rights organizations launched a multifaceted campaign to defeat a “Frivolous Petitions Prohibition Bill” that threatened to constrain speech on social media. Alongside significant digital media activism, civil society groups organized a march on the National Assembly, gathered signatures for a petition presented during a public hearing on the bill, and filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court in Lagos, all of which contributed to the bill’s withdrawal in May 2016. India’s telecommunications regulator banned differential pricing schemes in February after more than a million comments were submitted online to protest companies that charge consumers different prices for select content or applications.
Meanwhile, Telegram said it only takes steps against confirmed ISIS channels. “For example, if criticizing the government is illegal in a country, Telegram won’t be a part of such politically motivated censorship,” the company said. “While we do block terrorist (e.g. ISIS-related) bots and channels, we will not block anybody who peacefully expresses alternative opinions.”