Trump’s Win Has Led to an Encryption Boom
The propsect of Trump in the White House—with the full powers of the NSA at his command—appears to have made some people nervous. Or lots of people, really. To wit, end-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal has seen downloads pop 400 percent since the election, according to a recent Buzzfeed interview with Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of Open Whisper Systems, which created the app.
Signal, the encrypted messaging app that comes with an Edward Snowden endorsement, has seen a 400% increase in daily downloads since Donald Trump won the presidency.
“There has never been a single event that has resulted in this kind of sustained, day-over-day increase,” Moxie Marlinspike, the founder of Open Whisper Systems, the software nonprofit behind Signal, told BuzzFeed News. Marlinspike interpreted the jump as a reaction to Trump’s win, and anxiety over the future of US surveillance.
The secure communications tool is well-known in technologists, journalists, and political activists’ circles. It allows people to text and speak with one another using what’s known as end-to-end encryption, meaning only the sender and their intended recipient can read or hear the message.
“Trump is about to be put in control of the most pervasive, largest, and least accountable surveillance infrastructure in the world,” Marlinspike said. “People are maybe a little bit uncomfortable with him.”
While Signal does not publicize the number of people who use it to communicate, its user base is in the millions, Marlinspike said. The Google Play store lists Signal’s total Android downloads at between 1 and 5 million. The app is also available on iOS and on desktop through Google Chrome.
In an op-ed calling for expanding US surveillance programs, Trump’s pick for CIA director, Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo, suggested that merely using secure encryption tools may call the attention of counterterrorism officials. “[T]he use of strong encryption in personal communications may itself be a red flag,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal in January. In the same essay, Pompeo defended the government’s ability to search Americans without a warrant, and the surveillance of social media posts.
“I think there’s a lot of fear, given Trump’s alarming statements about surveillance and his penchant for revenge, that he will attempt to use surveillance to crush dissent and stifle journalism,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told BuzzFeed News.
Trump’s combative posture against the news media has concerned many journalists, whose work relies on collecting sensitive information and protecting the identities of sources. Timm said conversations journalists have can be used by the government to identify and prosecute whistleblowers, and that reporters’ emails and phone calls have ended up in indictments brought on by the Obama administration. For Timm, encryption has never been more important.
On the campaign trail, Trump sided with the Justice Department in its fierce dispute with Apple over gaining access to an encrypted iPhone, and he called for a boycott of Apple products until the company agreed to circumvent its own security features. At times, Trump has pushed for increased surveillance of Americans, including monitoring mosques. And during a CNN debate, he said, “[W]e should be able to penetrate the internet and find out exactly where ISIS is.” Some in the tech industry see the new administration as a threat to their businesses and to the privacy of their users, since the data they collect about customers could be used against them.
“It is troubling that President-elect Donald Trump has appointed some people that seem to have an over-broad view of governmental powers when it comes to surveillance,” Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu told BuzzFeed News. “And it is my hope that the new administration respects the Fourth Amendment and respects the importance of encryption — both for the government as well as for private individuals.”