person listening in on Facebook Messenger conversation

Jason Reed/The Daily Dot

ACLU seeks docs on DOJ’s attempt to backdoor Facebook Messenger

Feds wanted encryption disabled to spy on suspected MS-13 members.


Mikael Thalen


Posted on Nov 29, 2018   Updated on May 21, 2021, 12:32 am CDT

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is seeking documents related to the federal government’s attempts earlier this year to compel Facebook to disable the encryption in its Messenger app in order to spy on suspected members of the MS-13 gang, TechCrunch reports.

In a motion filed in California Wednesday, the civil liberties organization asked a judge to unseal records showing the Justice Department’s legal argument and why the court eventually rejected their request.

The Justice Department had unsuccessfully pushed for Facebook to be held in contempt of court at the time for refusing to backdoor the app.

Also joined by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Riana Pfefferkorn, associate director of surveillance and cybersecurity at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, the motion specifically requests “any legal analysis presented in government submissions incorporated, adopted, or rejected implicitly or explicitly in such judicial rulings.”

According to TechCrunch, Jennifer Granick, the ACLU’s surveillance and cybersecurity counsel, has argued that the public has the right to “know why the government thought it could dismantle measures that protect their right to privacy online.”

“The outcome of this legal dispute between Facebook and the Justice Department has the potential to affect the private communications of millions of Americans who use communication services such as Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, and Microsoft Outlook,” Granick said.

In a statement released on its website Wednesday, the ACLU also warned of the consequences if its motion fails.

“Facebook may have won this time, but if the government tries to force another service to undermine its security features and that service wants to fight back, it won’t be able to rely on the court’s reasoning so long as the opinion remains under wraps,” the ACLU wrote.

The incident bears resemblance to the fight between the FBI and Apple over iPhone encryption following the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting. The FBI, which argued that it needed a backdoor in Apple’s encryption, was eventually able to access the phone’s contents by paying a private company specializing in hacking iPhones.


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*First Published: Nov 29, 2018, 2:16 pm CST