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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Encryption, Law Enforcement and WhatsApp

As the terrorist shooting case in San Bernardino, California receives world-wide headlines, another struggle over encryption is quietly playing out between the federal government and a well-known and well-liked technology company.

WhatsApp, the world's largest instant messaging service, is owned by Facebook. The app allows users to send and receive instant messages and to place phone calls over the Internet. It has over a billion daily users.

Recently, the app service has taken the steps necessary to encrypt its customers' messages from start to finish; no one but the relevant users will be able to access messages. With its long tradition of wiretapping land line phones, federal law enforcement agencies have been chaffing at their inability to tap into the data contained in WhatsApp messages.

Apparently, a federal judge has approved a wiretap request involving WhatsApp in a non-terrorist criminal investigation. Like the iPhone in the San Bernardino case, the feds cannot access the data due to the company's ingenious encryption.

There will be a growing number of cases like these where the antiquated federal wiretapping statutes become increasingly ineffectual relative to the always-improving encryption software and privacy applications.

Should Congress pass new laws that would force private technology companies to develop software allowing law enforcement to access encrypted data through a back door? For their part, law breakers love the idea that the technology they are using ensures no one other than the intended will receive their messages.

So far, the federal government has elected not to drag WhatsApp into court to compel a resolution. Some tech experts believe they are waiting for the perfect storm to bring the right case into the courthouse.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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October 11, 2016 at 9:01 AM 

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