Apple has been all over the news over the past few weeks after the FBI asked the company to help it unlock an iPhone owned by one of the terrorists involved in the San Bernadino attacks.
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In an ongoing case, a federal judge has approved a wiretap but investigators can’t decrypt the messages sent using WhatsApp. Because it uses end-to-encryption, only the sender and recipient can see the conversations between them; the company can’t.
It said as much when a Facebook executive was arrested in Brazil in February over the messaging service “repeatedly failing to comply with judicial orders” to grant access to messages. In a statement, it explained, “WhatsApp cannot provide information we do not have.”
The Justice Department is said to be discussing how to proceed with its investigation, which officials have said does not involve terrorists. It, along with WhatsApp have declined to comment on the case or share any other details about it.
According to the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, which often champions causes concerning privacy, courts will have to evaluate whether compliance with an order would constitute an “undue burden” in both Apple and WhatsApp’s cases.
That means that the arguments Apple has made in the San Bernadino case would be available to WhatsApp too.
It’s another instance of the law attempting to follow (and failing to keep pace with) technology. Our need for privacy has evolved, but government agencies and law enforcement are still relying on powers they had roughly a century ago to run their investigations.
Details of the case against the messaging service are being kept under seal for the time being, but it’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds in tandem with the Apple litigation.
➤ WhatsApp encryption said to stymie wiretap order [The New York Times]