The disclosure that the FBI is using WhatsApp to monitor its users’ conversations is devastating for reporters and consumers. “An end-to-end encrypted phone doesn’t protect your private information from the FBI,” writes ACLU staff technologist Daniel Kahn Gillmor. “This guide is very vague on the scope of law enforcement snooping powers.”
The FBI has a document that details how it collects information from secure messaging services. The document, dated January 7, 2021, summarizes what types of personal information the FBI can collect from these services. While iMessage users have a reasonable expectation of privacy, they should not rely on this document to protect their privacy. Instead, they should ensure that the messages they send are private and secure. If they are unsure, they should consult with a lawyer who has experience in this area.
While the FBI rarely moves its targets onto WhatsApp, it has called for law enforcement to gain access to encrypted communications. In addition to pen registers, the FBI also uses other methods to access data on WhatsApp users. Pen registers are like a wiretap on account can give police up-to-date information on account activity. For example, the pen register can record user location and address book information. WhatsApp is the most popular messaging platform on the planet.
The document shows the difference between WhatsApp and iMessage in the way they provide content to law enforcement. WhatsApp and iMessage are the only apps that give law enforcement access to their users’ address books. The FBI has asked both companies to release this data. WhatsApp and iMessage both provide limited information, but WhatsApp does. Moreover, both companies support non-E2EE chats. Those who support WhatsApp should also have the same rights as iMessage users.
While a clear understanding of what WhatsApp metadata can reveal is essential for law enforcement investigators, a complete lack of awareness can have major implications for the privacy and safety of its targets. Many activists, journalists, and whistleblowers rely on
WhatsApp for their work, and a recent Rolling Stone article noted that the FBI was able to trace a reporter’s movements using WhatsApp metadata. Edwards had leaked internal documents to a journalist, who owed her source confidentiality. In that case, the misunderstanding cost her freedom.
The FBI uses Telegram to monitor internet communications and to communicate with suspected terrorists. Telegram’s API allows third-party developers to create bots that mimic special Telegram users. Telegram users can add these bots to groups and participate in chats with them. These bots can receive messages from users, participate in conversations, and press buttons within the bot’s messages. They can also pay for goods through their bots. But, this technology is prone to privacy concerns and have been the subject of controversies.
The FBI has been using Instagram Direct for a while to monitor a social network for suspicious activity. It can help detect scams, and in some cases, the service can even help the FBI track down users. The FBI’s recent Instagram Direct case involved a case where the FBI identified three people behind a number of fake accounts. Two of them had been communicating with each other at one point, and one person even said that he had been called a snitch.
In a recent district court case in Fresno, Calif., the FBI is trying to wiretap Messenger calls and texts. But Facebook is refusing, arguing that the court orders it to comply with wiretap orders would violate the Fourth Amendment. This is despite the fact that the encryption used by Facebook Messenger prevents it from listening to calls. While the government has repeatedly claimed that Facebook Messenger can be used to spyware for android spy on people, this claim is based on a mistaken assumption.