Choose amessaging apps involves various considerations, including the level of security: how private and secure are our communications? This is a parameter that can be difficult for many to assess, especially those less familiar with the technical details of how an email system works.
To simplify the decision-making process, a recently published document from the FBI’s technology and operations division comes to the rescue, in which an easily understandable description of the specific features of messaging services is established. The document actually goes to the list the extent to which the FBI was able to legally access the content and metadata of various free downloadable messaging apps.
It is not a classified document, but its use should be restricted to law enforcement and official personnel only. The document was obtained from a group called Property of the People via a Freedom of Information Act request, dated last January, and contains information as of November 2020. It was rolling stone to publish the document for the first time.
WhatsApp: near real-time information to the police
The document reads: “Discussed below, as of November 2020, is the FBI’s ability to lawfully access protected content on major messaging apps, including details of what information can be accessed based on applicable legal process. . Data provided by the companies listed below, with the exception of WhatsApp, are actually latent data logs provided to law enforcement not in real time and may impact investigations due to delays in delivery.”
Some information contained in the document is in fact already known: for example, it is known that Apple, on request, can provide full texts sent via the iMessage platform to the police if these messages are saved in iCloud, as are many services can to collect metadata even if they cannot share the content of a message. The novelty lies in the depth of detail of the document, which for each messaging service indicates what information can be obtained and how much.
And in particular it turns out that among the different messaging applications analyzed (iMessage, Line, Signal, Telegram, Threema, Viber, WeChat, WhatsApp and Wickr) Whatsapp is the only one providing near real-time data in response to law enforcement requests. For WhatsApp the document indicates:
-Message content: limited*
-Subpoena: can return basic user information
– Court order: basic user information and other information such as blocked users
– Search mandate: phonebook contacts and WhatsApp users who have the target in their contacts
– Pen register: sent every 15 minutes, it provides the origin and destination of each message
The asterisk next to “restricted” reads: “if the target uses an iPhone and iCloud backups are enabled, iCloud replies may contain WhatsApp data and include message content.”
WhatsApp issued a statement to Rolling Stone on the matter: “We carefully review, validate and respond to requests from law enforcement based on applicable laws, and we make this clear on our website and in our transparency reports. The document illustrates what we said: that law enforcement does not need to break end-to-end encryption to successfully investigate crimes.”
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