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Facebook Encryption Case: US Judge Keeps The Documents A Secret

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A US court has rejected the demand by two civil rights groups for the release of documents by Facebook to decrypt the conversation that an MS 13 gang had on Facebook’s messenger app. On Feb11, the US judge rejected the demand, the issue came up after a joint investigation by the Federal and state investigation agencies wanted Facebook to decrypt the voice conversations the MS-13 gang had on their Messenger service. Facebook uses end-end encryption to protect calls from being intercepted. That essentially means only the two conversing parties will only have access to it and nobody else can intercept it.

All telecom companies in the US have to give access to calls to the police under its Federal laws, but those apps which use the internet are exempt from it. Facebook claims that its Messenger app also falls under that exemption. The filings made by the two civil groups and the public filings in the Fresno case states that the government intercepted all ordinary phone calls and texts that happened between the MS-13 gang members and the affidavit says that only a few Messenger calls were not heard. Despite not hearing the conversations, the gang members were arrested.

Many groups which include the ACLU or the American Civil Liberties Union contend that the public had the right to know the laws on encryption and it outweighs the reason the Justice Department may have for a criminal probe. Even the Washington Post filed a brief to decrypt the records. The US judge in Fresno Lawrence O’Neill judged that the documents were sensitive and that it would not be possible even to release the revised version of it as it is a sensitive law-enforcement technique. He addressed that ‘The materials at issue in this case concern techniques that, if disclosed publicly, would compromise law enforcement efforts in many, if not all, future wiretap investigations.’

The arguments made by Facebook and the Justice Department to ACLU’s statements are kept as a secret, but the judge in his statement wrote that Facebook had supported the ACLU’s request to release the documents with some revisions while the Government was against the decision. Both the US Justice Department and Facebook have declined to make any comment publicly about this case as the court has passed a gag order against speaking in public. However, there have been reports of investigators failing to convince Facebook in a courtroom to wiretap specific messenger calls.

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