A security flaw that can be used to allow #Government's to read and intercept Facebook has been found in #WhatsApp's messaging service. Facebook, the owners of WhatsApp, declared that it was impossible for anyone, including WhatsApp staff, to intercept messages. However, new evidence has found that WhatsApp messages are vulnerable to interception.

A threat to free speech

Privacy campaigners have attacked WhatsApp, labeling the findings of the new research as a "massive threat to the notion of #Free Speech," stating that "personal information can be accessed by government agencies to spy on unwitting users". WhatsApp had previously made user privacy and security one of its primary selling points and has become a popular means for political activists and dissidents to communicate.

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The security flaw was discovered by Tobias Boelter, a cryptography researcher at the University of California. Boelter said: "If WhatsApp is asked by the government to disclose the messaging history of any given user they now can do that due to the changes in encryption". According to Boelter, he reported the issue to Facebook early last year but he was told that "Facebook is aware of the issue".

Co-director and founder of the Centre for Research into Information, Security and Privacy, Kirstie Ball, labeled the security flaws as a "goldmine for security agencies and an abuse of WhatsApp users' trust". Ball continued, stating: "Today's findings are a gigantic threat to freedom of speech. Consumer's will say that they have got nothing to hide, but it is unclear what information is being looked for by government agencies".

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WhatsApp's responsibility

Jim Killock, the director of Open Rights Group, a free speech activist group, argued that companies that claim to provide wall to wall encryption and security should come clean if their security are compromised. "Companies possess large amounts of personal data and it is incumbent on them to protect that data," Killock said.

A spokesperson from WhatsApp denied that third party groups can access users' data. "WhatsApp doesn't grant governments a backdoor into systems and we, as an organisation, would fight any government request to create a backdoor into users' private messaging history". The news comes a couple of weeks after Theresa May and her government failed to pass The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill, otherwise known as the Snooper's Charter.