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steven36

DOJ Asking Court To Force Facebook To Break Encryption On Messenger Voice Calls

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steven36

from the with-an-eye-on-undermining-all-encrypted-messaging-services dept

 

https://s7d8.turboimg.net/sp/71b86f29b12d7935ee4ff5710895379c/DOJ-vs-Facebook-770x430.jpg

 

 

The DOJ's war on encryption continues, this time in a secret court battle involving Facebook. The case is under seal so no documents are available, but Reuters has obtained details suggesting the government is trying to compel the production of encryption-breaking software.

Quote

The U.S. government is trying to force Facebook Inc to break the encryption in its popular Messenger app so law enforcement may listen to a suspect’s voice conversations in a criminal probe, three people briefed on the case said, resurrecting the issue of whether companies can be compelled to alter their products to enable surveillance.

 

The request seeks Facebook's assistance in tapping calls placed through its Messenger service. Facebook has refused, stating it simply cannot do this without stripping the protection it offers to all of its Messenger users. The government disagrees and has asked the court for contempt charges.

 

Underneath it all, this is a wiretap order -- one obtained in an MS-13 investigation. This might mean the government hasn't used an All Writs Acts request, but is rather seeking to have the court declare Messenger calls to be similar to VoIP calls. If so, it can try to compel the production of software under older laws and rulings governing assistance of law enforcement by telcos.

Quote

 

A federal appeals court in Washington D.C. ruled in 2006 that the law forcing telephone companies to enable police eavesdropping also applies to some large providers of Voice over Internet Protocol, including cable and other broadband carriers servicing homes. VoIP enables voice calls online rather than by traditional circuit transmission.

However, in cases of chat, gaming, or other internet services that are not tightly integrated with existing phone infrastructure, such as Google Hangouts, Signal and Facebook Messenger, federal regulators have not attempted to extend the eavesdropping law to cover them, said Al Gidari, a director of privacy at Stanford University Law School’s Center for Internet and Society.

 

 

Calls via Messenger are still in a gray area. Facebook claims calls are end-to-end encrypted so it cannot -- without completely altering the underlying software -- assist with an interception. Regular messages via Facebook's services can still be decrypted by the company but voice calls appear to be out of its reach.

 

Obviously, the government would very much like a favorable ruling from a federal judge. An order to alter this service to allow interception or collection could then be used against a number of other services offering end-to-end encryption.

 

It's unknown what legal options Facebook has pursued, but it does have a First Amendment argument to deploy, if nothing else. If code is speech -- an idea that does have legal precedent -- the burden falls on the government to explain why it so badly needs to violate a Constitutional right with its interception request.

 

This is a case worth watching. However, unlike the DOJ's very public battle with Apple in the San Bernardino case, there's nothing to see. I'm sure Facebook has filed motions to have court documents unsealed -- if only to draw more attention to this case -- but the Reuters article says there are currently no visible documents on the docket. (The docket may be sealed as well.) There is clearly public interest in this case, so the presumption of openness should apply. So far, that hasn't worked out too well for the public. And if the DOJ gets what it wants, that's not going to work out too well for the public either.

 

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