EFF, ACLU Petition Court To Unseal Documents From DOJ's Latest Anti-Encryption Efforts

from the talk-to-us,-DOJ dept

Back in August, the DOJ headed to court, hoping to obtain some of that sweet sweet anti-encryption precedent. Waving around papers declaring an MS-13 gang conspiracy, the DOJ demanded Facebook break encryption on private Messenger messages and phone calls so the government could eavesdrop. Facebook responded by saying it couldn't do that without altering -- i.e., breaking -- Messenger's underlying structure.

Not that breaking a communications platform would give the FBI any sleepless nights. Worthless encryption is better than good encryption when it comes to demanding the content of communications or, as in this case, operating as the unseen man-in-middle when suspected gang members chatted with each other.

Unfortunately (for the FBI), this ended in a demurral by the federal court. The details of the court's decision are, just as unfortunately, unknown. Reuters was able to obtain comments from "insiders familiar with the case," but the public at large is still in the dark as to how all of this turned out.

The EFF and ACLU are hoping to change that.

In our petition filed today in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, EFF, the ACLU, and Riana Pfefferkorn of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society seek to shed light on this important issue. We’re asking the court to release all court orders and related materials in the sealed Messenger case.

Given the importance of encryption in widely used consumer products, it is a matter of public interest any time law enforcement tries to compel a company to circumvent its own security features.

The petition [PDF] points out the First Amendment guarantees access to courtroom proceedings and the courts are supposed to adhere to this by operating with a presumption of openness. Only in rare, rare cases should they side with the government and allow the public to be cut out of the loop by sealing documents.

This is doubly true in cases of significant public interest. Any time the DOJ is in court agitating for broken encryption, it's safe the say the public will be affected by the case's outcome. At this point, we don't know anything more than the DOJ didn't get what it wanted. What we don't know is why, or what impact the ruling here will have on similar cases in the future. And we should know these details because, if nothing else, the FBI has proven it cannot be trusted to deal with device encryption honestly.

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  • icon
    Anonymous Monkey (profile), 29 Nov 2018 @ 3:28pm


    the FBI has proven it cannot be trusted to deal with device encryption honestly.

    could be simplified by dropping one word:

    the FBI has proven it cannot be trusted to deal with device encryption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2018 @ 3:56pm

    The ACLU has changed its principles so much in recent years that it's become rather hypocritical of them to still pretend to be 1st Amendment advocates, especially after that leaked document that basically says that advancing the goals of "social justice" trumps the first amendment. Maybe it's about time for a new organization to emerge and defend the principles, without prejudice or compromise, that the *old* ACLU was once famous for.


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 30 Nov 2018 @ 11:28am

    weird, sealing the docs is used like encryption.

    So they want the documents unsealed, why were they sealed in the first place? The DOJ has nothing to hide right? They are good guys that follow the laws and would never abuse their position, no never. Sealing the proceedings only works to hide your data if the courts (key escrow) isn't reachable by bad actors (concerned citizens).

    Maybe, just maybe, the DOJ can relate to how we as citizens feel about their attempts to undermine encryption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Thaddeus Boyd, speech cop, 3 Dec 2018 @ 10:19pm

    re: Democracy Died Here

    Hi, Im Thad, Techdirts resident speech troll, and Mike Masnicks pet tech subverter/sycophant.

    I am here to drive traffic away from Techdirt.com

    My pompous, self effacing, aspergers like opinions are the toxic breath of poison breathed onto the budding leaves of actual discourse.

    Thanks for tolerating me, and rest assured that it is people like me who are the actual pouson that ensure the death of democratic exchange online.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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