New Security Efforts by OTT Providers Continue Despite Wiretap Concerns

March 15, 2016
By: Paula Bernier

Popular online entities like Facebook (News - Alert), Google and Snapchat continue to advance the security they deliver around their services and capabilities, and while that’s typically good news for their customers, it may be a mixed blessing overall.

The discussion about the challenges this kind of thing presents to law enforcement officials resurfaced recently when the FBI recently began pushing Apple to unlock its iPhones to help it access information on the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone (News - Alert). Apple, as you probably know by now, refused.

WhatsApp, the instant messaging service that Facebook purchased for $19 billion back in February of 2014, now has encryption that makes it impossible for government entities to eavesdrop on these IM communications. As The New York Times reported in a March 12 article, the Justice Department has been working to figure out what to do next in a criminal investigation for which it got approval for a wiretap from a federal judge, but for which investigators couldn’t do that wiretap due to the WhatsApp encryption.

An Electronic Frontier Foundation blog posted earlier this week by Nate Cardozo said: “according to the New York Times, the government has obtained a wiretap order, authorizing real time acquisition of the WhatsApp messages (probably text chats rather than voice calls, but that’s unclear at this stage) in an ongoing criminal investigation. WhatsApp is, of course, unable to provide decrypted text in response to the wiretap order, just as it was unable to comply with a similar order by a Brazilian court earlier this month. The whole point of end-to-end encryption is that no one but the intended recipient of a message is able to decipher it…. For now however, we applaud WhatsApp (and Facebook) for standing strong in the face of orders, whether Brazilian or American, to do the impossible or to compromise our security for the sake of enabling click-of-the-mouse surveillance.”

Meanwhile, a CNET article by Lance Whitney posted today notes that Google (News - Alert) is investigating whether the encryption it uses for emails today can be applies to other products, and notes a report by The Guardian that Snapchat is working to introduce a more secure messaging system.

Edited by Maurice Nagle