August 17, 2022

A document for the training of FBI agents has revealed that law enforcement agencies in the United States have access, even if it is limited, to the encrypted messages of some of the main messaging applications, like WhatsApp, iMessage and Line.

Said document, dated January 7 of this year, constitutes a perfect summary of how much information the FBI is capable of extracting from each of the platforms analyzed.

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Thus, we see how the US authorities can access numerous information from services that claim to provide high privacy to their users, while the kind of information they can extract from Telegram, Signal, Viber or WeChat is much more limited.

The two messaging platforms that share the most information with the FBI, WhatsApp (Facebook) and iMessage (Apple), have 3.3 billion users worldwide

This has been known thanks to a request protected by the Freedom of Information Law that the US non-profit entity Property of the People – dedicated to promoting government transparency – asked the authorities to find out how agents are trained on the procedures to follow in case they need to access this kind of encrypted data.

In the case of WhatsApp, though the full content of messages is never made available to agents, the owning company (Facebook / Meta) does provide near real-time data about the user and their activities through metadata, as well as on your contacts and your communication record.

The document specifically highlights that this near real-time access (actually, every 15 minutes) to user data is a peculiarity of this service, which does not provide no other messaging platform:

“That WhatsApp is offering all this information is devastating for a journalist who communicates with confidential sources,” says Daniel Kahn Gillmore, of the American Civil Liberties Union, to Rolling Stone magazine.

Of course, according to statements by a WhatsApp spokesperson, the information is only provided

Apple, for its part, despite having starred in the past legal clashes with the FBI on behalf of the defense of the privacy of its users, also provides basic information about its users and log of the last 25 days of activity in iMessage.

Access that can be expanded, in the event of a court order, to include the full access to sent and received messages that remain stored in iCloud.

Both apps are shown in the FBI document as the most permissive in the face of FBI demands: at the other extreme we have cases such as the platform Signal, which only provides data such as the date and time the user registers and connects.

For its part, Telegram —As you already warn in your privacy policy— you can reveal the IP and phone number of a user if he is being investigated for crimes of terrorism (something that, according to the same document, “until now, this has never happened”).

Vía | Rolling Stone