The DOJ yet to decide whether to pursue a second court order, compelling WhatsApp to decrypt its messages.
Move over, Apple: WhatsApp may be the next big encryption case on the Justice Department’s docket.
According to The New York Times, the DOJ is locked in a “prolonged standoff” with the popular messaging service over access to its content.
As part of a criminal investigation, the government obtained a wiretap order that required WhatsApp to turn over encrypted content.
But the Facebook-owned company, which rolled out end-to-end encryption in 2014, can’t simply dig through its archives to pick out private messages.
Now, amidst a very public fight with Apple over a locked iPhone, the Justice Department must also decide its next move with WhatsApp.
As reported by the Times, that could mean a second court order—one that looks similar to that which the FBI handed Cupertino last month.
Following a late-2014 Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) report that said WhatsApp did not pass its mobile app security test, the messaging program turned its encryption up a notch.
By implementing Open Whisper Systems’ TextSecure protocol, WhatsApp promised end-to-end encryption for all users. Private texts are unreadable by WhatsApp, the Justice Department, or any other agency—even with a court’s wiretap order.
“The whole point of end-to-end encryption is that no one but the intended recipient of a message is able to decipher it,” Nate Cardozo, staff attorney with the EFF, wrote in a Sunday blog post.
Facebook, meanwhile, is reportedly gearing up to expand WhatsApp encryption to include voice calls, The Guardian reports.
All the while, the DOJ continues fighting a similar battle with Apple, which rejected the FBI’s request to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.
In order to comply, Cupertino would have to create a new operating system to crack the device’s built-in encryption—a slippery slope, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
If the backdoor falls into the wrong hands, he suggested, it could do serious damage to the security of phones around the globe.
WhatsApp was roped into the recent encryption debate earlier this month when a Facebook executive was arrested in Brazil for refusing to comply with a judge’s request to hand over encrypted WhatsApp messages in a drug-trafficking investigation.
Neither the DOJ nor WhatsApp immediately responded to PCMag’s request for comment.