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WhatsApp, iMessage share user data with FBI, leaked document shows

WhatsApp, iMessage share user data with FBI, leaked document shows

(Natural News) A newly released document has highlighted the ongoing controversy over privacy concerns faced by users of messaging apps, with popular apps iMessage and WhatsApp shown to be the “most permissive” for the FBI to access data and content.

(Article by Michael Haynes republished from

The document obtained by Rolling Stone presents an overview of what data can be accessed from nine popular messaging apps.

Entitled “Lawful Access,” the document outlines the ability of law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, to “legally access secure content” on the “leading messaging” apps. The nine apps listed are iMessage, Line, Signal, Telegram, Threema, Viber, WeChat, WhatsApp, and Wickr.

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Prepared by the FBI’s Science and Technology Branch and Operational Technology Division and dated January 7, 2021, the document summarizes what information can be obtained from the messaging apps, revealing Facebook-owned (now Meta) WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage to be most free with the information provided to law-enforcement agencies.

Most popular, but least secure

WhatsApp came under fire earlier this year after a newly announced software update prompted widespread privacy concerns, and users flocked to Signal and Telegram, including tech billionaire Elon Musk. The company responded by claiming it did not “keep logs of who everyone is messaging or calling.”

However, the FBI document shows that such a claim is not entirely true. WhatsApp joins iMessage and Line in committing to handing over “limited” message content of a targeted individual, while others provide no message content at all.

It is also the only app listed to use a pen register. Every 15 minutes, the pen register captures user data including the source, destination, and time of each message, providing a detailed account of the user’s call log and contact.

Further WhatsApp information is provided to the FBI upon use of a court order, which returns “subscriber records,” and a search warrant which returns “address book contacts,” and “blocked users.”

Under the search warrant, WhatsApp will give also details of other users who have the targeted individual in their contacts. While a WhatsApp spokesman attested to Rolling Stone that the company did not provide message content to the FBI, the data which the company does provide still reveals who messages each other, when, and how often, as well as the other contacts in their address book.

“WhatsApp offering all of this information is devastating to a reporter communicating with a confidential source,” Daniel Kahn Gillmor, a senior staff technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Rolling Stone

Meanwhile Apple’s iMessage also provides “limited” message content, as well as subscriber information, 25 days’ worth of data about iMessage searches, and who searched for the targeted user in iMessage.

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