FBI document shows how secure messaging apps stack up

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A new FBI document detailing its legal access to secure messaging applications says the agency has “limited” ability to access the content of messages sent through Apple’s iMessage.

The document, which appears to have been obtained by a group called the Property of the People via a FOIA request, details the FBI’s ability to “legally access the content and metadata of the secure messaging application.”

For example, the FBI has “limited” access to the content of iMessages. This isn’t really a new revelation, as it has long been known that Apple will provide law enforcement with access to a suspect’s iMessages, if they are backed up to iCloud.

It differs from more secure messaging platforms. According to the document, the FBI cannot access the content of messages from Telegram, WeChat or Wickr.

In addition to iMessage, the FBI says it can gain “limited” access to WhatsApp and Line messages.

The FBI says that for Signal – long regarded as one of the most secure end-to-end encrypted messaging apps – it can’t access a lot of information. The only information Signal keeps is the time and date a user registered for the service, and the last date of a user using it.

Although unclassified, the document states that it is “for official use only” and is designated as “law enforcement sensitive”.

The inability of law enforcement to access encrypted data on iPhones and other devices is a centerpiece of the case for backdoors. Although Apple cooperates with law enforcement in criminal cases where assistance is sought, the company has long resisted attempts to undermine its general encryption.


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