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U.S. judge keeps documents secret in Facebook encryption case

Reuters  |  SAN FRANCISCO 

By Joseph Menn

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. on Monday rejected a bid by two civil rights groups that had sought to force the release of documents describing a secret effort to compel to decrypt voice conversations between users on its app.

The issue arose in a joint federal and state investigation into activities of the MS-13 gang in Fresno, California, revolving around the end-to-end Facebook uses to protect calls on its service from interception.

End-to-end means that only the two parties in the conversation have access to it.

Groups including the argued that the public's right to know the state of the law on outweighed any reason the might have for protecting a criminal probe or

newspaper also filed a legal brief to unseal the records.

However, U.S. District Lawrence O'Neill in ruled that the documents described sensitive and releasing a redacted version would be impossible.

"The materials at issue in this case concern techniques that, if disclosed publicly, would compromise in many, if not all, future wiretap investigations," O'Neill wrote, adding that the underlying criminal case was still ongoing.

An ACLU for the both declined to comment.

Both the Justice Department and Facebook's arguments in response to the ACLU were themselves kept secret. However, O'Neill wrote that Facebook supported the ACLU's requests to unseal, with limited redactions, while the government opposed them.

Neither U.S. prosecutors nor Facebook have commented publicly about the case because of a court gag order. But reported last year that investigators failed in a courtroom effort to force Facebook to wiretap Messenger voice calls.

U.S. companies are required to give police access to calls under federal law, but many apps that rely solely on are exempt. Facebook contended Messenger was covered by that exemption, sources told

filings in the case showed the government was intercepting all ordinary phone calls and Messenger texts between the accused gang members.

An FBI affidavit cited three Messenger calls that investigators were unable to hear. The participants in those calls were arrested anyway.

(Reporting by Joseph Menn, Writing by Dan Levine, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, February 12 2019. 05:51 IST