Having end-to-end encryption may not be enough to protect privacy when using popular encrypted messaging apps, as law enforcement can access your data whenever they want.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) document prepared on January 7 provided the types of user data that various secure messaging applications can share at the request of law enforcement.
Entitled âLegal Accessâ, the one-page document details the âFBl’s ability to legally access the content and metadata of the secure messaging applicationâ.
The “unclassified” document designated as “official use only” and “law enforcement sensitive” was prepared by the Science and Technology Directorate and the Operations Technology Division of the FBI.
According to To Rolling stone, who first reported on it, the document was obtained by a group called Property of the people via FOIA request.
This is an internal guide explaining how the FBI can spy on targets using data requested from nine companies and their departments: Apple’s iMessage, Line, Signal, Telegram, Threema, Viber, Tencent’s WeChat. , WhatsApp from Meta and Wickr.
The accessible information includes subscriber data, e-mail sender-receiver data, device backup, IP address, encryption keys, date / time information, date / time information. user registration and contacts. All but one (IP address) of iMessage can be accessed by the FBI.
For WhatsApp, Line, and iMessage, access to message content is limited, while in the rest, the FBI has said it does not have access to message content.
Only information about a user’s last logged in date and the date and time a user registered is available to Signal. Telegram only provides data on the time of recording, but for a confirmed terrorist investigation, it “may disclose the IO’s address and phone number to the appropriate authorities.”
“As of November 2020, the FBI’s ability to legally access secure content on major messaging applications is described below, including details of what information is accessible based on applicable legal process,” the document reads.
âThe return data provided by the companies listed below, with the exception of WhatsApp, is actually latent data logs that are provided to law enforcement in a non-real-time manner and may impact inquiries due to delivery delays. “
Some information in the document is not new. On the one hand, Apple could provide full texts sent via iMessage to law enforcement if they are backed up to iCloud.
Likewise, many social networks can collect metadata even if they cannot share the content of a post, according to PC Magazine.
Nonetheless, the document marks a turning point in the long debate between privacy and security.
On the one hand, there are those who feel happy with end-to-end encrypted communications, regardless of third-party backend access. On the other, journalists and whistleblowers who need confidentiality to stay safe.
The FBI revelation showed that WhatsApp is the only popular secure messaging app that provides near real-time data in response to law enforcement requests. WhatsApp confirmed this to Rolling Stone.
“If the target is using an iPhone and iCloud backups are turned on, iCloud returns may contain WhatsApp data to include message content,” the document’s footnote read on the “limited” message content field. .
WhatsApp might have provided a workaround for this, however.
In September, WhatsApp introduced End-to-end encryption backups that allow users to store their data in a backup key vault built on the basis of a component called a Hardware Security Module (HSM), specialized and secure hardware, other than ” cloud-based services like Google Drive and iCloud “to which” WhatsApp does not have access (because) they are secured by individual cloud-based storage services “.
“We carefully review, validate and respond to law enforcement requests based on applicable law, and we are clear on this on our website and in regular transparency reports.” WhatsApp told Rolling Stone.
“[The document] illustrates what we said: Law enforcement doesn’t need to break end-to-end encryption to successfully investigate crimes. “
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