FBI document shows what data can be obtained from encrypted messaging apps

Date: 2021-11-30T17:10:07+00:00

Location: therecord.media

A recently discovered FBI training document shows that US law enforcement can gain limited access to the content of encrypted messages from secure messaging services like iMessage, Line, and WhatsApp, but not to messages sent via Signal, Telegram, Threema, Viber, WeChat, or Wickr.

The document, obtained earlier this month following a FOIA request filed by Property of the People, a US nonprofit dedicated to government transparency, appears to contain training advice for what kind of data agents can obtain from the operators of encrypted messaging services and the legal processes they have to go through.

Dated to January 7, 2021, the document doesn’t include any new information but does a good job at providing an up-to-date summary of what type of information the FBI can currently obtain from each of the listed services.

As Forbes reporter Thomas Brewster said on Twitter earlier this week, past news reports have already exposed that the FBI has legal levers at its disposal to obtain various types of personal information even from secure messaging providers that often boast about providing increased privacy to their users.

While the document confirms that the FBI can’t gain access to encrypted messages sent through some services, the other type of information they can glean from providers might still help authorities in other aspects of their investigations.

The content of the document, which may be hard to read due to some font rendering issues, is also available in the table below.

Of note, the table above does not include details about Keybase, a recent end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) service that has been gaining in popularity. The service was acquired by video conferencing software maker Zoom in May 2020.

Catalin Cimpanu is a cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He previously worked at ZDNet and Bleeping Computer, where he became a well-known name in the industry for his constant scoops on new vulnerabilities, cyberattacks, and law enforcement actions against hackers.