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US seeks Messenger data in case that could mirror one in Australia Featured

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US seeks Messenger data in case that could mirror one in Australia Courtesy: Facebook

The US Government is going after Facebook in a bid to get the social media giant to break the encryption on its Messenger client, in order that it can gain access to voice data reportedly needed for a crime investigation – something that Australian Government will have no difficulty doing once its new cyber law is passed.

Reuters reported, quoting three people who had been told about the case, that the proceedings were taking place in a federal court in California under seal so that no filings were accessible by the public.

In Australia, there would be no need for the case to be under seal, because under the draft law, issued on Tuesday morning for public comment, such matters are not meant to be made public, with big fines for anyone who makes mention of it.

Details of the US case were published by Reuters after a hearing on Tuesday regarding a government move to hold Facebook in contempt of court for refusing to provide the contents of the voice conversation.

The investigation in question, in Fresno, California, has to do with the MS-13 gang which is active in the US and Central America.

The US Government is attempting to force Facebook to rewrite the Messenger software so that it can gain access to the suspect's voice conversation which is encrypted from end-to-end.

A similar situation arose in 2016, when the FBI went after Apple in a bid to obtain the data on an iPhone 5C which belonged to one of two terrorists who had been involved in an attack in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015.

The FBI took Apple to court, demanding that the company rewrite its iOS operating system in order that the agency could gain access to the data on the iPhone.

As part of the evidence that Apple presented to the court to show that this was a Herculean task, was a document written by its user privacy manager Erik Neuenschwander, detailing exactly how difficult and expensive it would be for the company to meet the FBI's demands.

Neuenschwander's document pointed out that even if Apple went through all the twists and turns he listed, there was no guarantee that the result would be what the FBI wanted.

The case ended before it could come up before a judge, with the FBI saying it had managed to gain access to the data by paying an external contractor to hack the device.

In the current case, Facebook has told the court that since Messenger calls are encrypted end-to-end, only the two parties concerned have access to the conversation. The company says it can only meet the government's demand it it rewrites the application to remove encryption or else hacks into either user's account.

In 2006, a US federal appeals court in Washington DC, made a ruling that law which makes it mandatory for telephone companies to enable police eavesdropping, also applies to some big companies that offer VoIP, including cable and other broadband carriers servicing homes.

But Al Gidari, a director of privacy at Stanford University Law School’s Centre for Internet and Society, told Reuters that officials had not made a bid to extend the law to apps that were not tightly tied to existing phone infrastructure.

He insists that messaging platform do not come under the purview of this law.

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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