US Federal Agencies Use a 35-Year-Old Surveillance Act toTrack WhatsApp Users Secretly, without any explanation of why and without knowing who they are targeting.
This comes after a government monitoring memo in Ohio revealed last November that DEA investigators had asked Facebook-owned WhatsApp to track 7 users in China and Macau.
The memo revealed that the DEA did not know the identities of any of the targets, but asked WhatsApp to monitor the IP addresses and numbers the target users contacted, as well as when and how they were using the app.
This monitoring is carried out using a technology known as “number registration”, and under the law known as the “digital record” issued in 1986, federal agencies do not seek to obtain any message content, which WhatsApp cannot provide in any case, because it is subject to Known as “peer-to-peer encryption”.
According to a report published by Forbes and seen by Al Arabiya.net, law enforcement agencies in the United States have repeatedly in the past two years ordered WhatsApp and other technology companies to install digital identification records, without judicial authorization or justifying the reason behind the surveillance operations.
As a statement by the US Department of Justice indicated, it is sufficient for technology companies to obtain 3 things to help law enforcement agencies track WhatsApp users, namely: the identity of the attorney or law enforcement officer applying; the identity of the agency making the request; and a certificate from the applicant that “information likely to be obtained is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation by that agency.”
In another memorandum, the government explained that, other than the three items listed above, federal law does not require any application for an order authorizing the installation and use of a pen and tracking device registry.
The latest case shows that unwarranted US intrusion has a global reach, far beyond local WhatsApp users and users of neighboring countries, and affecting foreign targets whose identities are unknown to the government. According to another court document discovered by Forbes, a previous case in Ohio saw the targeting of 7 other WhatsApp users, 3 in the United States, and 4 in Mexico.
Chinese opioid sales
As the Chinese WhatsApp numbers were published unchanged in the government’s file, Forbes was able to find indications that the DEA was seeking to monitor Chinese individuals and entities shipping narcotics through the web and encrypted apps.
Although the DEA may legitimately use the “Digital Registry” Act to track Chinese chemical suppliers fueling America’s opioid crisis, there are still concerns about unconditional surveillance, without giving reasons for surveillance.
However, despite complaints from the ACLU about the law going back decades, there is little sign of any move in the US Congress to address any of the law’s most controversial aspects. Therefore, US agencies can continue to monitor users of one of the world’s most popular messaging apps without having to provide any reason, either to the judge or to the public.
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