Technology & Innovation

Tech News Digest: Encryption, Semiconductors, and Security

TechSec’s Bi-Weekly Tech News Digest: March 13th, 2023

By Maya Schmidt

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the sixteenth bi-weekly Tech News Digest by the GISA Technology and Security Initiative. Our goal is to give you an easy-to-read overview of what has been happening in the world of technology and security, so we pick the top news stories from the last two weeks and present you with a summary. If you are interested in knowing more follow the links below.

WhatsApp May be Blocked in the UK

WhatsApp has promised to walk away from the UK if the UK government passes its Online Safety Bill, which would require that platforms identify and prevent child abuse. The issue has been framed by the head of WhatsApp Will Cathart as a question of privacy vs. security, but WhatsApp policy may indicate an underlying power struggle between public and private agents over users’ communications.

WhatsApp claims that in its end-to-end encryption, stating that;

“WhatsApp has no ability to see the content of messages or listen to calls that are end-to-end encrypted. That’s because the encryption and decryption of messages sent and received on WhatsApp occurs entirely on your device. Before a message ever leaves your device, it’s secured with a cryptographic lock, and only the recipient has the keys. In addition, the keys change with every single message that’s sent.”

When it comes to this encryption, every loophole in its security that exists jeopardizes the security of the entire application, because any agent – be it a government, a private company, or even an individual – with the ability to “peek” at an encrypted message may itself have security vulnerabilities which would make it possible for the information to leak further.

According to Mr Cathart, “When a liberal democracy says, ‘Is it OK to scan everyone’s private communication for illegal content?’ that emboldens countries around the world that have very different definitions of illegal content to propose the same thing.”

Simultaneously, WhatsApp (which was bought by Facebook/Meta in 2014) employs moderators to examine messages which have been flagged by recipients, a conflict in the narrative of WhatsApp security pointed out by Jim Salter at Ars Technica back in 2021.

What remains absent from the conversation is not the question of security vs. privacy, but rather the absence of privacy from the beginning and the challenges of holding securitizing agents (be they governments, corporations, or individuals) accountable to those who stand to benefit or suffer as a result of securitizing action.

A similar pattern has occurred in Canada.

US-China Semiconductor Competition: A National Security Concern?

The Biden Administration is working to limit trade exchanges between Dutch and Chinese companies, specifically exports of semiconductor manufacturing equipment. The Dutch government has yet to finalize its policy, but Dutch company ASML had already sold China chip-printing machines, whose maintenance by ASML now hangs in the balance. 

The case provides an interesting insight into the overlap between US military and economic interests; some proponents of protectionist policies highlight the role of semiconductors in the function of US military weapons systems in the same breath as concerns for the global auto industry.

Semiconductors may indeed be the “lifeblood of the digital economy”, but if this is the case, it raises some important questions about the true nature of the traditional distinction between economic and political interests, as well as its implications for equitable economic participation, the true meaning of national security, and the degree to which brawls for technology control represent a genuine representation of human security.

Whilst you are here!

The Graduate Press is currently raising funds for our 5th-anniversary print edition and we need your help. The last 5 years at the institute have seen some incredible highs and lows and TGP has been there for them all. Now TGP wants to immortalise that history.

If you can, we are currently accepting donations via our GoFundMe page.
And if you would like to be involved with The Graduate Press and the 5th anniversary edition you can email us at or via Instagram.

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