The French government has said it intends to move to using its own encrypted messaging service this summer, over concerns of the risks that foreign entities could spy on officials using popular encrypted apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp.
Reuters reports that ministers are concerned about the use of foreign-built encrypted apps which do not have servers in France. “We need to find a way to have an encrypted messaging service that is not encrypted by the United States or Russia,” a digital ministry spokeswoman told the news agency. “You start thinking about the potential breaches that could happen, as we saw with Facebook, so we should take the lead.”
Telegram’s founder, Pavel Durov, is Russian, though the entrepreneur lives in exile and his messaging app has just been blocked in his home country after the company refused to hand over encryption keys to the authorities.
WhatsApp, which (unlike Telegram) is end-to-end encrypted across its entire platform — using the respected and open sourced Signal Protocol — is nonetheless owned by U.S. tech giant Facebook, and developed out of the U.S. (as Signal also is).
Its parent company is currently embroiled in a major data misuse scandal after it emerged that tens of millions of Facebook users’ information was passed to a controversial political consultancy without their knowledge or consent.
The ministry spokeswoman said about 20 officials and top civil servants in the French government are testing the new messaging app, with the aim of its use becoming mandatory for the whole government by the summer.
It could also eventually be made available to all citizens, she added.
Reuters reports the spokeswoman also said a state-employed developer has designed the app, using free-to-use code available for download online (which presumably means it’s based on open source software) — although she declined to name the code being used or the messaging service.
Late last week, ZDNet also reported the French government wanted to replace its use of apps like Telegram — which president Emmanuel Macron is apparently a big fan of.
It quoted Mounir Mahjoubi, France’s secretary of state for digital, saying: “We are working on public secure messaging, which will not be dependent on private offers.”
The French government reportedly already uses some secure messaging products built by defense group and IT supplier Thales. On its website Thales lists a Citadel instant messaging smartphone app — which it describes as “trusted messaging for professionals”, saying it offers “the same recognisable functionality and usability as most consumer messaging apps” with “secure messaging services on a smartphone or computer, plus a host of related functions, including end-to-end encrypted voice calls and file sharing”.