The U.S. government has a new target in its war against privacy: WhatsApp.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has obtained a wiretap order to acquire communications sent in real time through the Facebook-owned messaging service, which began implementing end-to-end encryption in 2014, the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said on Sunday in response to reporting from the New York Times.
It’s the latest development in a growing fight over privacy rights and national security as the government continues its attempt to force Apple to decrypt the iPhone contents of suspected San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook. Apple has resisted the order on the grounds that it would violate users’ privacy rights and set a dangerous precedent for government power.
As EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo wrote in a blog post on Sunday, the move against WhatsApp “proves that our worst fears were right.”
Thus far, the wiretap—which the DOJ obtained for an ongoing criminal investigation—is demanding that WhatsApp hand over encrypted information, which the company does not have the software to access. That means the DOJ has not yet decided whether to pursue an additional court order to force WhatsApp to build decryption code, Cardozo said.
“Presumably, that second order would look similar to the San Bernardino order and direct WhatsApp to write code that would break its own encryption and allow it to provide plain text in response to the wiretap order,” he wrote.
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