The FBI Can Get Your WhatsApp Data in Real Time
An FBI document reveals that the most used messaging apps are also the most permissive, as they are very vulnerable to law-enforcement searches.
Rolling Stone has obtained an unreported FBI document showcasing how easy it is for the bureau to procure data from Facebook's Whatsapp and Apple's iMessage, provided they have a warrant or a subpoena.
"The most popular encrypted messaging apps iMessage and WhatsApp are also the most permissive,” says Mallory Knodel, the chief technology officer at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
Despite Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Apple's Tim Cook both focusing on privacy in their marketing, the two most popular messaging apps in the world are the most permissive with their data. This can be fine if you're a normal user who does not care much about privacy, but for journalists, activists, and whistleblowers, secure messaging tools can mean the difference between life and death.
In the view of the FBI, WhatsApp is a wellspring of private user data. According to the “Lawful Access” document, WhatsApp will provide more information, verging on real-time, about a user and their activities than nearly every other major secure messaging tool. A subpoena will yield only basic subscriber information, the FBI document says. Presented with a search warrant, WhatsApp will turn over address-book contacts for a targeted user as well as other WhatsApp users who have the targeted individual in their contacts, according to the FBI.
A WhatsApp spokesperson confirmed the company’s near-real-time responses to a pen register (a surveillance request that captures the source and destination of each message for a targeted individual). But the spokesperson added that the FBI document does not mention that pen registers for WhatsApp do not yield actual message content and do not apply in a retroactive manner. She also said that the company uses end-to-end encryption for the content of users’ messages, which means law enforcement can’t directly access that content.
However, the data provided by WhatsApp to law enforcement capture the recipient, the time of the chat, and the users both parties have in common. This can be dangerous for journalists and activists who need confidentiality.
It seems Signal is the best of these apps in terms of privacy, as even famed whistleblower Edward Snowden uses it.
Here's a reason: I use it every day and I'm not dead yet. https://t.co/Trhgqbwdpj— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 7, 2021