Activists call on Zoom to implement encryption for all

A coalition of tech organisations and nonprofits have urged Zoom CEO Eric Yuan to make end-to-end encryption available to all users

A group of technology organisations, nonprofits and civil liberties campaigners, including the Mozilla Foundation, supported by tens of thousands of members of the public, are calling on Zoom CEO Eric Yuan to walk back his decision to deny users of its free service end-to-end encryption, saying it puts marginalised groups at risk.

Yuan stoked controversy earlier in June when he told analysts on a conference call marking a stellar set of financial results that Zoom would exclude free calls from end-to-end encryption, specifically to work with law enforcement agencies.

“Free users for sure we don’t want to give [end-to-end encryption] because we also want to work together with FBI, with local law enforcement in case some people use Zoom for a bad purpose,” said Yuan.

However, this decision came at a dangerous moment – not only because millions of consumers are relying on Zoom’s service to keep in touch with friends and family they cannot visit thanks to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, but also because of the global upswell in activist organisation around the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are today presenting an open letter to Yuan, which has been co-signed by 19,000 regular internet users, urging him to reverse this decision.

Ashley Boyd, Mozilla vice-president of advocacy and engagement, said that best-in-class security was not something that only businesses, or people with the means to pay for it, should be able to access.

“Zoom’s decision will leave journalists, activists, low-income internet users, and a host of others more vulnerable to snooping. We urge Eric Yuan and Zoom to listen and to reverse course. At a time when everyone and everything is increasingly connected, privacy and security need to be the default – not a luxury,” said Boyd.

“We believe all users should have access to the strongest privacy and security, regardless of their ability to pay. And we’re not alone in that belief,” she added.

At the same time, a coalition comprising Fight for the Future, the Daily Kos, MPower Change, Mijente, Kairos, the Media Alliance, and Jewish Voice for Peace are presenting Zoom with a petition signed by more than 50,000 people.

The petition claims that people who cannot afford to pay for Zoom’s service are left more vulnerable to stalkers, hackers and other cyber criminals, and said that implementing end-to-end encryption could save lives.

Lau Barrios, campaign manager at MPower Change, an organisation which advocates for the rights of Muslims, said: “End-to-end encryption has always been a racial justice issue because it most directly protects black, brown, Muslim and poor communities from the disproportionate risk of surveillance, policing and criminalisation.

Zoom has already misled the public once on whether or not they use end-to-end encryption. Openly defending their refusal to provide it to those not wealthy enough to pay to protect themselves and their communities is unconscionable. And it’s a direct refusal to protect activists and organisers from surveillance in this moment,” she said.

Barrios said that anybody organising against violence and oppression, such as that targeting black Americans, had a direct stake in their private communications being private, and accused Zoom of luring people onto its platform with “false promises of privacy” in such a way that it risked undermining the collective fight for justice.

“Zoom is volunteering to fuel an oppressive police state at the very moment protesters are fighting to end it. Not only does Zoom compromise the safety of activists using the platform, they’re putting all users who can’t afford paid accounts in danger,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future.

“End-to-end encryption should not be a premium feature. There is literally no reason not to offer free end-to-end encryption to everyone other than to do cops a favour. In doing this, Zoom is reinforcing a lie that widespread availability of end-to-end encryption is inherently dangerous, which is just nonsense,” she said.

“This is a decisive moment of change. Now more than ever, Zoom needs to implement end-to-end encryption wherever possible to keep all users safe, not just corporations and rich people.”

A Zoom spokesperson commented: “We want to make end-to-end encryption widely available and are exploring ways to do so safely. It is an important security tool and doing this respectfully at scale for a product like Zoom hasn’t been done.

“Our end-to-end encryption offering is still a work in progress and we are currently listening to feedback from child safety advocates, civil liberties organisations, encryption experts, and law enforcement, and will provide an updated white paper incorporating this feedback soon.”

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