Facebook could be held in contempt of court for refusing to help federal investigators eavesdrop on voice calls made using the social network’s popular Messenger app, Reuters reported Friday.
The Department of Justice has asked Facebook to subvert the encryption used to secure Messenger calls between users, making the request as part of a sealed federal court case secretly underway in California involving the notorious MS-13 street gang, Reuters reported.
Facebook is reportedly challenging the request, and attorneys for the government argued Tuesday that the company should be held in contempt of court for failing to comply, the report said.
Representatives for both Facebook and the Justice Department declined to comment when reached by The Washington Times.
According to the Reuters report, Facebook claimed that it is impossible to eavesdrop on Messenger calls in realtime unless the company rewrites the app’s code to stop encrypting voice calls, effectively eliminating security measures currently in place to shield its users from surveillance.
“This is bad,” said Kurt Opsah, executive director and general counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a California-based digital rights group. “The security of literally billions could be put at risk,” he said on Twitter.
The government’s apparent request echoes the encryption dilemma that unfolded over two years earlier when the FBI sued Apple while attempting to access a password-protected iPhone used by a slain suspected terrorist, Syed Farook. Apple opposed the government’s request and similarly argued at the time that compelling with the FBI’s demand would force the company “to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers.”
The FBI ultimately abandoned its litigation against Apple, albeit after reportedly paying a private-security firm upwards of $900,000 to access the device.