Many of us learned that the Justice Department recently sued Apple for refusing to unlock the encryption on a San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. But little do we know about the backstage pressures put on a popular messaging app Whatsapp over similar encryption and privacy issues.
WhatsApp, which was purchased by Facebook for $19 billion two years ago, is currently the world’s largest mobile messaging platform. But in 2015, the company decided to add an extra layer of encryption to its messaging app making it impossible for intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on its users’ conversations.
WhatsApp’s encryption is so strong that the feds cannot access conversations even though they have a court’s wiretap order. According to reports, the Justice Department and Whatsapp are discussing the issue, but both parties declined to comment.
People familiar with the ongoing federal investigation, however, agreed to comment but under anonymity because the information is confidential. Sources said that the investigation was not linked to terrorist acts, and declined to provide more details.
Both DOJ-vs-Apple and DOJ-vs-Whatsapp standoffs have a lot in common. While some users likened the DoJ request to break iPhone encryption to a request to allow the FBI search your home without a warrant, the Whatsapp battle was likened to an attempt to wiretap your phone calls.
So, both sides are not quite clear on how much of the debate is about national security and how much is about the right to privacy. Some experts said that a probable solution to exit the deadlock would be for a court to force Whatsapp help investigators obtain the encrypted data.
So, analysts expect an incoming court fight against Whatsapp since wiretapping laws haven’t been updated since the time people used landline to communicate.
Peter Eckersley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that fights for online privacy, noted that the federal government eyed Whatsapp because they needed a reason that would make the push for better wiretapping rules more “reasonable.”
On the other hand, a law expert believes that the government is not angling for a case since this is not the first clash between a tech company and federal investigators over encryption issues. Whatsapp is now in the limelight just because it has one billion users and it is the largest mobile messaging service in the world.
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