What do you think about the FBI using WhatsApp? What are its limitations? Does the agency crack the encryption on content? Does WhatsApp give the feds access to contact information or when suspects talked to each other? The answer depends on how much information the feds are trying to get. If they have access to the entire chat history, they may have access to suspects’ contact information and even their location. But if they do this only when the suspects are under surveillance, they won’t be able to catch them.
The FBI is using WhatsApp to track criminals. WhatsApp transmits personal data about its users every 15 minutes, and the agency can obtain subscriber and registration time data, as well as message sender-receiver data. The app provides metadata every 15 minutes, and the FBI can also get a list of users blocked by the person of interest. The misunderstanding about how the FBI can use WhatsApp could have serious consequences for the targets. For example, journalists and whistleblowers are particularly interested in the service, and its metadata could be instrumental in the arrest of Natalie Edwards. A Rolling Stone article noted that Edwards was arrested in the case. Despite being a whistleblower, she leaked confidential documents to a reporter. This misunderstanding cost her freedom.
A recent document obtained by the FBI explains the legal process for accessing secure content on messaging apps, including iMessage. The document also describes how Apple can be compelled to turn over large amounts of messaging data. iMessage is Apple’s text-messaging service, which is loaded on iPhones and used by 1.3 billion people worldwide. According to the FBI’s “Lawful Access” guide, Apple is required to turn over subscriber information and up to 25 days’ worth of data to law enforcement, despite not requesting the actual content of messages.
When it comes to spying on users, it is unlikely that the FBI will be able to access WhatsApp. While the company does allow law enforcement officials to receive information about individual users, it is not always clear what they can access. A recent Rolling Stone article highlighted how the FBI obtained metadata from the messaging service that led to the arrest of Natalie Edwards. Edwards had leaked internal documents to a Rolling Stone reporter who owed an ethical duty to protect her source.
The FBI documents on how the agency uses Telegram have raised questions about its security. Although the messaging app has a high score for security, end-to-end encryption is not standard in all channels. To make Telegram private, users must select the “secret chat” option. While group chats are convenient, they do not offer the same level of security. For this reason, how to check messages on another phone the FBI has not released its list of channels that the FBI is currently using for criminal investigations.
The question of whether the FBI uses WhatsApp or Signal is a good one. The app is open source and independent, and is widely touted by privacy-conscious public personalities. But what do we know about the privacy of the app? Do we know whether the FBI can gain access to our private communications? Let’s find out. The answer to this question isn’t entirely clear. However, it’s likely the FBI could have expected more access to user metadata than it actually has.