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WhatsApp encryption preventing US Justice Dept from wiretaps

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The US Justice Department is reportedly looking into ways to wiretap WhatsApp conversations in an unnamed (non terrorism related) criminal investigation, reports the New York Times. It adds that the investigators have been slow at doing this because of the current encryption employed by the messaging service, some of whom state that a judge should force WhatsApp to help the government get encrypted info.

Meanwhile, the US Senate is working on a draft legislation to penalise tech companies for refusing to comply with court orders by refusing to provide information in investigations. The NYT report adds that the Justice Department could obtain a second court order to ask WhatsApp to decrypt the messages required for the investigation.

WhatsApp enforced end to end encryption for its service in 2014 after failing Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) mobile app security test, and does not let anybody but the sender and receiver access these messages.

Related reads:
– WhatsApp plans to encrypt voice calls over the coming weeks
– FBI & Apple hearing scheduled this month: Developments & timeline

Any information can be accessed by anyone
The EFF, along with 46 computer scientists, security experts and mathematicians prepared an amicus brief which stated that creating a custom version of iOS which disabled key security features violated the US’ First Amendment, while Stanford University added that if the San Bernardino order was upheld, it would create a legal precedent permitting the US government to compromise the security of anybody and everybody around the globe.

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Facebook exec booked for not providing info
At the start of the month, Brazilian federal police took into custody Diego Dzodan, a Facebook executive, for failing to provide info from a WhatsApp messaging account in a drug trafficking investigation as requested by a judge. The arrest was made because Facebook ‘did not comply with judicial orders’.

Undermining privacy equal to threatening everybody
Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014. It currently claims to have 1 billion users along with 1 billion groups. Earlier this month, Jan Koum, the founder of WhatsApp said in a Facebook post that the purpose of security was to safeguard privacy, and asking a single company to undermine its security for an investigation threatened everyone’s security in the long run. And a September 2015 interview with Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel cited him as saying, “Clearly, if the US government wins, the door is open for other governments to reach into data centers in the US.”

In January, we reported that Whatsapp was looking to introduce a new feature which would share WhatsApp account information with Facebook. In the same month, Koum said that the messaging platform was planning to drop the service’s annual subscription fees.

***

Read more: WhatsApp is eating telecom (or trying to)

Our WhatsApp, privacy and security coverage.

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Image Credit: Álvaro Ibáñez under CC BY 2.0

Written By

I'm a MediaNama alumna from 2015-16 (remember TinyOwl?) now back to cover e-services like food and grocery delivery, app based transport and policies, platforms and media in India.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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