A US District Court judge in California has ruled in favor of Facebook, denying a joint federal and state task force that tried to force the social networking company to wiretap Messenger voice calls by holding the company in contempt of court, according to a report from Reuters.
The case first came up last month, when the Department of Justice was reportedly looking to hold Facebook in contempt of court for refusing to comply with a wiretapping request for an ongoing investigation into the MS-13 gang. Because Messenger calls are conducted over a cellular data connection or Wi-Fi, they are not subject to the same wiretap laws as standard phone calls, which law enforcement can gain access to with a proper warrant.
Facebook won’t have to give the government access to Messenger calls
That hasn’t stopped law enforcement from trying to force technology companies to aid with such requests, sometimes by breaking or bypassing their own encryption. In that sense, the case bears some similarity to the standoff between Apple and the FBI over unlocking an iPhone from a suspect in the 2015 San Bernardino shooting. Like Apple, Reuters reports that Facebook refused to alter or adjust its software to give the government a backdoor into users’ private conversations, a decision that judge’s ruling seems to have upheld despite some key differences between Apple’s and Facebook’s handling of user data and use of encryption.
As with the initial report of the DOJ’s request that Facebook break Messenger’s encryption for government wiretapping, the case is still under seal, so there’s still no public documents or records as to the judge’s reasoning for ruling in Facebook’s favor. The ruling protecting Facebook from weakening or removing its encryption on Messenger will likely have ramifications going forward as a precedent for protecting users’ privacy in future cases, too — something that will surely come up more frequently in the future as tech companies continue to clash with law enforcement over privacy and encryption.