WhatsApp Strong Encryption Frustrates US Prosecutors

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US Department of Justice and Facebook may clash over easy-to-use strong encryption


The Justice Department has opened another front in the war against secure encryption by going after WhatsApp.

The DOJ is frustrated with the popular messaging app’s strong encryption and might go after its parent company, Facebook, in a case similar to Apple-iPhone Vs FBI.

Ars Technica reports:

According to a Saturday report in The New York Times, prosecutors have gone head-to-head with WhatsApp, the messaging app owned by Facebook. Citing anonymous sources, the Times reported that “as recently as this past week,” federal officials have been “discussing how to proceed in a continuing criminal investigation in which a federal judge had approved a wiretap, but investigators were stymied by WhatsApp’s encryption.”

The case, which apparently does not involve terrorism, remains under seal.

The government could pursue a strategy similar to the one it has employed in the ongoing terrorism investigation in San Bernardino, in which it was granted a court order that would compel Apple to create new software to defeat the encryption on a seized iPhone. Apple has vowed both publicly and in court papers to fight that order as intensely as possible, citing security concerns.

The Times noted that over the last year, WhatsApp has been upgrading encryption for messaging and voice calls. WhatsApp

As Ars reported earlier this month, since late 2014, all WhatsApp messages sent between Android devices are end-to-end encrypted, which means that not even parent company Facebook can access their plaintext contents. (WhatsApp messages that involve an iOS device began using encryption as of August 2015.)

Two years ago, WhatsApp upgraded its security after partnering with Open Whisper Systems, a company founded by well-known security researcher Moxie Marlinspike, the creator of Signal. During fiscal year 2014, Open Whisper Systems received $900,000 from the Open Technology Fund, an umbrella group whose primary funder is the United States government. That funding came primarily through the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Department of State.

Matt Steinfeld, a Facebook spokesman, e-mailed Ars on Saturday: “Sorry, we’re declining comment on this.”

Similarly, Emily Pierce, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, echoed this line: “We are not commenting.”

Among other questions, Ars specifically asked Facebook and the DOJ if the Times’ reporting was accurate.

Read more: Go ahead, make some free, end-to-end encrypted video calls on Wire