WhatsApp helps US govt spy on users, no questions asked — Analysis
WhatsApp has been ordered to monitor unidentified users and for other unknown reasons, according to a 2021 search warrant
WhatsApp was used to spy on several foreign citizens by an American government agency, despite the fact that there were no records or evidence of any crime.
Unsealed search warrants dating back to November 2021 show that the US Drug Enforcement Administration ordered Facebook’s communications service, the Facebook, to keep tabs on seven individuals alleged to be located in China and Macau.
“The warrant reveals the DEA didn’t know the identities of any of the targets, but told WhatsApp to monitor the IP addresses and numbers with which the targeted users were communicating, as well as when and how they were using the app,”Forbes’ security reporter Thomas Brewster covered privacy and security.
Previously, I’d looked at cases where the government at least knew the alias or the name of the WhatsApp user they were going after.Here, they’re targeting Chinese WhatsApp users they don’t know.No, it’s not message content, but metadata reveals an awful lot. https://t.co/4FLYi34J3y
— Thomas Brewster (@iblametom) January 17, 2022
This surveillance was done as part of an investigation into the Chinese importation of prescription opioids. The US government needed only to declare that it wanted the surveillance. “the information likely to be obtained is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by that agency.”There was no evidence required for the search warrant to prove that there had been a crime.
The Pen Register Act is a 35-year old law that allows authorities to benefit from lax procedures. It was created through the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986. Pen Register Act permits law enforcement officers to avoid Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches by the government. It also means that there is no probable cause for the search.
Forbes also discovered that WhatsApp had previously been ordered to monitor four users in Mexico – demonstrating again that the US government’s Big Tech surveillance operations go far beyond the country’s borders.
“WhatsApp appreciates the work law enforcement agencies do to keep people safe around the world,”The FAQ states that the company is “prepared to carefully review, validate and respond to law enforcement requests based on applicable law and policy.”
Last year, a leaked Federal Bureau of Investigation document showed that WhatsApp was the fastest messenger service to give data to the US authorities.
The Swiss military has banned WhatsApp and its competitors Signal and Telegram this month due to data protection concerns.