As Apple and WhatsApp have built themselves into multibillion-dollar behemoths, they’ve done it while preaching the importance of privacy, especially when it comes to secure messaging. But, in a previously unreported FBI document obtained by Rolling Stone, the bureau claims that it’s particularly easy to harvest data from Facebook’s WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage services, as long as the FBI has a warrant or subpoena. Judging by this document, “the most popular encrypted messaging apps iMessage and WhatsApp are also the most permissive,” according to Mallory Knodel, the chief technology officer at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has articulated a “​​privacy-focused vision” built around WhatsApp, the most popular messaging service in the world. Apple CEO Tim Cook says privacy is a “basic human right” and that Apple believes in “giving the user transparency and control,” a philosophy that extends to the company’s wildly popular iMessage app. For journalists, activists, and government critics who worry about government mass surveillance and political retribution, secure messaging tools can mean the difference between doing their work safely or facing imminent danger.

While the FBI document raises no questions about the apps’ abilities to keep out hackers and snoops-for-hire, the paper does describe how law-enforcement agencies have multiple legal pathways to extract sensitive user data from the most popular secure messaging tools. The document — titled “Lawful Access” and prepared jointly by the bureau’s Science and Technology Branch and Operational Technology Division — offers a window into the FBI’s ability to legally obtain vast amounts of data from the world’s most popular messaging apps, many of which hype the security and encryption of their services.

The document, dated Jan. 7, 2021, is an internal FBI guide to what kinds of data state and federal law-enforcement agencies can request from nine of the largest messaging apps. Legal experts and technologists who reviewed the FBI document say that it’s rare to get such detailed information from the government’s point-of-view about law enforcement’s access to messaging services. “I follow this stuff fairly closely and work on these issues,” says Andrew Crocker, a senior staff attorney on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s civil-liberties team. “I don’t think I’ve seen this information laid out quite this way, certainly not from the law-enforcement perspective.”... Read More: Rolling Stone