The U.S. Government wants Facebook to break the encryption on Messenger

David Matthews

TS Maniac
Staff member

The United States government wants Facebook to break the end-to-end encryption on its Messenger app in order to snoop on a suspect in an ongoing MS-13 criminal investigation. So far, Facebook has not complied with the request.

While the case itself is under seal in California and therefore no public filings are available, three anonymous sources revealed some of the details to Reuters. The Department of Justice argued in court that Facebook should be held in contempt for failing to comply with the government’s request. Facebook argues that in order to comply, it would have to completely remove encryption from Messenger for all users. Even for an individual person, which is what the government is asking for, Facebook wouldn’t be able to easily remove the encryption.

For clarification, Facebook Messenger is not encrypted end-to-end for normal conversations. However, there is a Secret Conversation feature that allows all messages between two people to be secured where not even Facebook could decrypt it in transit. The MS-13 suspect is likely using this feature to communicate.

If this sounds familiar, a similar thing happened in 2016 after the San Bernardino shooting. The FBI wanted Apple to break into the locked iPhone 5C of Syed Rizwan Farook. A California magistrate judge signed a court order compelling Apple to unlock Farook’s iPhone. Apple fought the court order with CEO Tim Cook writing an impassioned customer letter arguing against what he perceived as government overreach. The FBI eventually dropped the case after using a third party company to break into the phone.

If Facebook complies with the government’s request, then it could set a dangerous precedent. Major tech companies like Apple have been trying to position themselves as privacy and security minded. Facebook in particular is still facing the ramifications after the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Russian interference campaigns. Companies such as Apple, Signal, WhatsApp (which is ironically owned by Facebook), and Telegram pride themselves on offering apps that allow people to securely and privately communicate with each other.

Additionally, Facebook will likely face the wrath of President Trump given his proclivity for using MS-13 as an example of the problems with America’s immigration system.

According to the Reuters article, legal experts say the government must “meet a high legal standard when seeking to obtain phone conversations, including showing there was no other way to obtain the evidence.” If the government can prove that Facebook complying is the only way to get evidence, Facebook could be forced to help the government.

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cliffordcooley

TS Redneck
So to find out what one person is hiding under their cloths. They will have to strip everyone around the globe. These bastards have let their authority go to their head. They have no shame in striping everyone of their own peace of mind. Anyone that does not fear loosing their privacy is extremely naive. They falsely believe the system will protect them.
 

Ean Mogg

TS Booster
Umm how many here have had a private conversation on messenger then something related to the previous conversation pops up on FB as an Ad like I was talking to my brother in text and I mentioned something about me needing a new bed lo and behold there were bed adverts all over FB so don't tell me they need help cracking fb code just ask Amazon lololol
 

ghostf1re

TS Guru
So to find out what one person is hiding under their cloths. They will have to strip everyone around the globe. These bastards have let their authority go to their head. They have no shame in striping everyone of their own peace of mind. Anyone that does not fear loosing their privacy is extremely naive. They falsely believe the system will protect them.
The word "Facebook" and "privacy" don't belong in the same sentence. They simply do not correspond.
 

Kibaruk

TechSpot Paladin
Surely, they can just give the password of the suspect's account to the gov instead of breaking the encryption for everyone?
To me this makes way more sense, yet, you would have to give out an account private information and one way or the other would set a very bad precedent.

The word "Facebook" and "privacy" don't belong in the same sentence. They simply do not correspond.
Yet, here we are.
 
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Impudicus

TS Addict
I'd question if anything done through facebook is truly encrypted to begin with. Just like google when you turn off tracking. If Facebook does this then criminals just switch to an actual secure encrypted messaging app. I wonder if Facebook just encrypts the message but the government can still see the sender/recipient? Sure they can see friends lists and so on, doing this to win this one battle will just set them further back in the long run.