Facebook Fights US Government Demand to Break Messenger Encryption in Criminal Case

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Facebook is contesting a demand from the U.S. government that it break the encryption of its popular Messenger app so that law enforcement can listen in to a suspect's conversations as part of an ongoing investigation into the MS-13 gang.

The U.S. Department of Justice's demand is in relation to a case proceeding in a federal court in California that is currently under seal, so public files are unavailable. However, Reuters' sources said the judge in the case heard arguments on Tuesday on a government motion to hold Facebook in contempt of court for refusing to carry out the surveillance request.

Facebook says it can only comply with the government's request if it rewrites the code relied upon by all its users to remove encryption or else hacks the government's current target, according to Reuters.

Legal experts differed over whether the government would likely be able to force Facebook to comply. However, if the government gets its way in the case, experts say the precedent could allow it to make similar arguments to force other tech companies to compromise their encrypted communications services.

Messaging platforms like Signal, Telegram, Facebook's WhatsApp and Apple's iMessage all use end-to-end encryption that prevents communications between sender and recipient from being accessed by anyone else, including the service providers.

Tech companies have pushed back against previous attempts by authorities to break encryption methods, such as the FBI's request that Apple help it hack into the iPhone owned by Syed Farook, one of the shooters in the December 2015 attacks in San Bernardino.

In February 2016, a U.S. federal judge ordered Apple to help the FBI, but Apple opposed the order in an open letter penned by Tim Cook, who said the FBI's request would set a "dangerous precedent" with serious implications for the future of smartphone encryption.

Apple's dispute with the FBI ended on March 28, 2016 after the government found an alternate way to access the data on the iPhone with the help of a private contractor and withdrew the lawsuit.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

Top Rated Comments

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23 months ago
Opinions will obviously vary here, but one can’t support Apple in the San Bernardino shooter case and not back Facebook in this case. Or vice versa.
Score: 41 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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23 months ago
If encryption is outlawed, only outlaws will have encryption.
Score: 33 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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23 months ago

I don't believe any of this. They probably already have them access years ago, this is just a publicity stunt between the government and FB that they agreeded to behind closed doors in order to feign a fight that they are trying to protect user's privacy.

Somehow I really doubt the Department of Justice would agree to hindering their own work just for the sake of helping a social media network look good...
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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23 months ago
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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23 months ago
US government wanting to ignore the constitution because it inconveniences them? I’m shocked.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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23 months ago
After Facebook’s recent privacy scandal they are desperate to regain users’ trust. As a result this now means that they’ll be fighting these sorts of points ardently when they might not have before.

It’s good to see a positive effect rise from their misconduct.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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