The US government is reportedly looking to get Facebook to break the encryption on its Messenger app in order for law enforcement to listen to a criminal suspect’s voice conversations.
According to Reuters, citing three sources familiar with the case, the government is seeking to hold Facebook in contempt of court in a California federal court for its refusal to allow law enforcement to carry out surveillance on the suspect.
The issue is said to be centred around an investigation into the MS-13 gang, a gang that president Donald Trump frequently refers to when discussing the US immigration policy.
The decision made by the judge has the potential to have huge implications for the amount of access that the US government and law enforcement bodies are given to private communication between people on encrypted services like Messenger, WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram, to name a few.
Ordinary text messaging services and email services like Gmail are already decrypted in transit between parties and thus open to be accessed via a court order. Encrypted services, on the other hand, remain encrypted from beginning to end and would require a software overhaul in order to allow anybody to access the communications on their platforms. Having to rewrite this code would be additional work for platforms and would get against the values that they hold.
US law enforcement is already able to eavesdrop on telephone conversations and conversations conducted through Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, such as cable and broadband providers. This law, however, has yet to be extended to chat, gaming, and other services that are not strictly integrated into the infrastructure of phones.