Joel Reidenberg, founding academic director of the Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy, was quoted in an NBC News article about Facebook’s possible new technology that supports end-to-end encryption of messages.
Every six minutes, on average, Facebook gets a request from a U.S. government agency for information about gangs, drug trafficking or other suspected crimes, and the social network generally cooperates, turning over at least some data 86 percent of the time, according to the company’s most recent report on the topic.
But that close relationship could be reshaped by CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s move this week to embrace a technology that law enforcement officials say could stymie their investigations: end-to-end encryption, an unbreakable way to hide the content of messages.
Embraced by privacy and consumer advocates, end-to-end encryption is built by default into some messaging apps, such as the Facebook-owned WhatsApp or smaller rival Signal, and Zuckerberg said he plans to adopt it more widely for Facebook. The change would put the content of more communications out of the reach of police, the FBI and other government agencies that can now get them by executing a search warrant on Facebook.
The FBI labels the trend “going dark.” To get encrypted messages, authorities generally need access to people’s phones or other devices. The FBI on Thursday declined to comment on Facebook’s encryption plans, but on Tuesday, a day before Zuckerberg announced the change, FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a security conference in San Francisco that he remained dissatisfied with the situation.
While end-to-end encryption protects what’s inside of a message, it doesn’t shield messaging services from collecting the broader information, patterns and trends about messaging behavior.
“By merging Instagram and Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, Facebook is now multiplying their ability to mine the metadata, so they’ll have more information about who people are messaging with,” said Joel Reidenberg, a Fordham University law professor. “That can oftentimes be more valuable information than the content of the messages.”