back to article ACLU: Here's how FBI tried to force Facebook to wiretap its chat app. Judge: Oh no you don't

A US federal judge has refused to unseal court paperwork that would show how the FBI tried to force Facebook to snoop on calls made through its instant-messaging app. Judge Lawrence O’Neill this week rejected [PDF] a petition from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to make the documents public because, he argued, "the …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    favored by Facebook

    "sensitive investigatory information is so thoroughly intertwined with the legal and factual arguments in the record such that redaction would leave little and/or misleading substantive information."

    O noes! People will misunderstand and we are so sad and misunderstood already!

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: favored by Facebook

      seeing Fa[e]cebook posturing on the correct side of THIS one is surprising. Pleasantly so. For now. Until the truth is known, I'd guess.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        They're in favor of stopping the flow of information. Is that what you meant by correct? They seem to be concerned about their privacy, so I'd call it something besides correct, anyway.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          oh, irony- I already forgot that they had done a right thing for some reason.

          1. Chronos

            Re: N/M

            No, they most likely want the redacted version to show their "dissent" with the snoopage for some public brownie points but cover up just how easy it is for their systems to be internally compromised, which would probably make up the bulk of the federal complaint of contempt, i.e. "They routinely trawl through this stuff for product interest keywords, networking indicators and so on but refused to assist law enforcement by sharing that data."

            This is Farcebook we're talking about. The "right thing" is serendipitous.

      2. BillG

        Re: favored by Facebook

        If you take a look at the court PDF, Facebook opposed making the information public. The court ruled:

        Facebook’s assertion that its internal processes that were the subject of the Government’s motion constituted trademark and protected material and information, and that public disclosure would provide such protected information to competitors, thereby jeopardizing substantial business quality, productivity, and profit, was legitimate, true, and reasonable. The Government opposes the instant requests to unseal. Facebook supports the requests on the condition that any disclosed materials be subject to limited redaction --- from the court ruling

        I'm not sure, but it appears this is related to a case in 2015 when the FBI wanted to snoop on FB conversations.

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: favored by Facebook

      "sensitive investigatory information is so thoroughly intertwined with the legal and factual arguments "

      What BS. The legal basis for requesting a tap should have absolutely nothing to do with specific techniques to implement the tap. I can understand the legal position changing based on some very broad parameters eg intercept at client or server, multiple blanket intercept or targeted etc. Beyond that, shuld be published

  2. bombastic bob Silver badge

    ACLU should appeal all the way up

    I'd like to see a Supreme Court ruling on this one... just to see where it stands on privacy vs law enforcement encroachment. 4th and 5th ammendments to the constitution, to an originalist (like Trump's appointees) should be CLEAR on this one.

    So what we need to see is whether the liberal and conservative halves of the Supreme Court are going to rule in favor of law enforcement enroachment in the name of "security", or whether they'll rule in favor of PRIVACY and FREEDOM.

    It should be an interesting show, nonetheless. I suspect you'll see at least half of the libs siding with the ACLU, and most of the conservatives, unless there's some compelling national security issue to prevent it [which I suspect is NOT the case, hence redacted version at the least].

    With all of the dirty shenanigans going on in the DOJ (in particular, the well known former top level people at the FBI and Attorney General's office) this should be a no-brainer slam dunk in favor of privacy, transparency, and public interest. Why the judge did NOT even allow the redacted version is beyond me...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ACLU should appeal all the way up

      You assume there really is such a thing as an "originalist". Conservative justices are not picked for that, they are picked for their positions on a few hot button issues.

      When cases like this actually go before the Supreme Court, you tend to see a mix of conservative and liberal appointees on each side - you may think of them as conservative appointees as "originalists", but a lot of them are very much "law and order" types who tend to defer heavily to the needs or claimed needs of law enforcement and would support the FBI in this matter.

      It is like looking in congress to see who will support 4th and 5th amendment rights when bills that touch on those issues come to a vote, like efforts to shitcan the unconstitutional PATRIOT ACT. You see people like Ron Wyden and Rand Paul on one side, with strange bedfellows like Pelosi, Schumer, McConnell and Grassley on the other side (i.e. not on your and my side) which unfortunately always has enough votes to keep the surveillance state in business.

  3. No 3

    For every case we here about where the government wasn't successful, there are probably 10 cases where they are.

    Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if this is old news, if the government modified their technique and succeeded in compelling FB to comply. Something we'll probably never know about.

  4. Exit, stage right!
    Black Helicopters

    Land down under

    Waiting to see if AU try the same now that the AAAB (commonly known as the anti-encryption bill) was recently passed.

  5. Peter Prof Fox

    Here's the fundamental hypocracy

    On the one hand the US gov claims it needs to protect the public, yet won't admit the public needs protection against the government.

    When rampant snooping is going on without supervision, then how is that different to sneaky plotters (or ne're-do-wells by prejudicial suspicion) being naughty on-line. Both are bad. When governments say "trust-us" then WE KNOW they're up to no good. History speaks clearly. Abuse of power goes back millennia.

    The bigger the outfit the bigger the lie and the bigger the evil.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Re: Here's the fundamental hypocracy

      > Here's the fundamental hypocracy

      That's a surprisingly common form of Government, from the national right down to the local town council level.

      1. paulll

        Re: Here's the fundamental hypocracy

        Sure you don't mean hypercracy?

  6. quxinot

    Wait a moment...

    So a company that mines communication for information to sell ads has a end to end encryption communication service for secure comms. Meaning that they cannot apply their primary business practice to make money against a service that they're providing.

    Anyone else see a glaring disconnect there? I'm sure that's wholly trustworthy. Really.

  7. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    Your Honour, with all due respect to the Court I fail to understand...

    ... how disclosure "would compromise law enforcement efforts in many, if not all, future wiretap investigations." The information already available is more than enough for any interested party, be it someone who is up to no good or someone who is simply concerned for his/her privacy, to decide whether or not Facebook Messenger or calls can be considered private.

    Clearly, FB can decrypt the calls in principle, at least by changing some internal working of their software. Clearly, the government wanted them to, and they refused so far. While I would indeed be interested in the arguments provided for and against, and in the technical details of the possible decryption mechanism, this is in the realm of intellectual curiousity and, possibly, civil interest (what is the government up to?).

    Operationally, however, those details do not change a thing. If such decryption is implemented some woefully uninformed bad guys will be caught and the well informed ones will not, regardless of what the details are.

    Frankly, at this point I see only two reason to keep the details secret. One is to make it harder for less-than-competent lawyers to come up with arguments why evidence gathered via such wiretapping may be inadmissible in court. The other one may apply in case where the secret arguments demonstrate the decryption is very, very hard indeed: there may be this idea that scaring a few bad guys and, crucuially, a whole lot of law-abiding citizens off a reasonably secure channel of communication is a worthy goal. IANAL, but I seriously doubt either line of reasoning can lead to good laws, and IMHO anyone who adheres to such arguments in setting legal precedents is not fit to be a judge.

  8. _LC_ Silver badge

    Let’s reconcile and warn about Huawei for a moment. ;-)

  9. Alistair

    Lets approach this from an application design perspective

    App does encrypted end to end voice comms.

    Either end has a unique key.

    App (FB Chat tool) is installed on both ends

    FBI wants to listen to chat.

    FB needs to clone unique keys off both ends and hand them to FBI.

    FBI now has access to comms.

    Soooo -- FBI warrant was "FB, steal unique keys from user A and user B and hand them to us please" OR "FB please collect the unique keys from *ALL* your encrypted chat voice comms users and hand them to us with Usernames as an index"

    I'm sorry your honor, but clueless morons the tech world is NOT.

    1. Rajesh Kanungo

      Re: Lets approach this from an application design perspective

      It is simpler than that. FB voice calls are not encrypted end to end. They are encrypted to the cloud and back.

  10. Aodhhan

    Read what is going on, not what you assume or want to read into the story.

    Granted, the author of this story didn't do the best job interpreting what's going on, but this is the norm today. Not to mention, using the ACLU (or any petitioner) as the main--if not only source, doesn't exactly make it good journalism.

    This has nothing to do with encryption or privacy, and obviously a search warrant was granted.

    The problem comes down to techniques currently employed or under research to (legally) monitor potential crimes. It's pretty much this simple.

    It's a bit hypocritical to demand your own privacy without allowing a law enforcement agency some of their own--within reason. In this case, it does the public more harm than good to expose how law enforcement goes about using the Internet to catch criminals.

    Yeah, I get it... it allows the FBI to possibly abuse this power. Nobody knows this more than Trump himself. Yet, funny the same people who have a problem with this in general, are cheering the FBI for abusing their power against Trump, and cheering the DoJ -- allowing Mueller to dig for evidence in search of a crime which doesn't seem to exist. Which is basically what the USSR did and China still does against their people.

    1. _LC_ Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Read what is going on, not what you assume or want to read into the story.

      Martin Luther King Jr. would've been proud of you - NOT!

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Read what is going on, not what you assume or want to read into the story.

      It's a bit hypocritical to demand your own privacy without allowing a law enforcement agency some of their own

      That's the stupidest claim I've read all week.

      There is no a priori reason to believe natural rights attach to institutions. Nor is there any significant trend in US mainstream political philosophy, legislation, or jurisprudence that would assign such rights to institutions, except where they are inherently institutional (e.g. freedom of the press), and certainly not to government departments.

      And even if it were otherwise, it would not be hypocritical to postulate a distinction in how rights are assigned to individuals and institutions.

  11. Eddy Ito

    MS-13 coordinates their "events" via Facebook!? What is this world coming to?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    FBI dropped the case because the companies complied.

    Mean while everyone is thinking the judge did something good, but since they can't see what happened - you just take their propaganda and feel good.

  13. Rajesh Kanungo

    CALEA with warrant applicable or not?

    Can someone explain why simple CALEA can't be used to force FB to intercept and relay voice calls when a warrant is produced, please? Is it because it is not an actual PSTN kind of service? Right now, all my calls go over cellular so the govt can intercept it. Or is it that the govt wants to have unrestricted access to all phone conversations?

  14. JohnFen

    This is why

    This is why we need to consider all communications methods where we aren't doing the encryption ourselves to be publicly accessible and insecure.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is why

      "This is why we need to consider all communications methods where we aren't doing the encryption ourselves to be publicly accessible and insecure." - fixed it for you. Has anyone noticed that these requests for access are not coming from No Such Agency any longer? Do you really think that they gave up?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Some alternatives, FWIW

    Referenced from here.

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