The United States government is pressuring Facebook into rewriting Messenger in a manner that would allow stateside law enforcement to listen in on conversations enabled by the world's most popular instant messaging app, Reuters reports, citing sources familiar with the matter. The effort is part of a sealed case presided by a federal court in Fresno, California, with its latest hearing taking place this past Tuesday, as per the same insiders. The Department of Justice filed a motion for holding Facebook in contempt of court as the social media giant continuously resisted allowing law enforcement to listen in on Messenger conversations and continues to do so.
The case itself deals with the MS-13 gang, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, that's present throughout Central and North America. The specific issue at hand is that Facebook is refusing to allow the federal government to wiretap the Messenger account of one specific gang member, with the Menlo Park, California-based firm claiming such a thing is technologically impossible as its app uses end-to-end encryption and the contents of any conversations enabled by it are consequently inaccessible to anyone but conversation participants. The only way for Facebook to comply with the request would be to rewrite Messenger's code and leave an intentional backdoor in it, which it claims isn't something that the government can compel it to do, insiders claim.
A potential ruling against Facebook would likely set a precedent for the Silicon Valley and encrypted communications platforms in the U.S., but not before being confirmed by the Supreme Court, which remains an unlikely scenario due to the technical difficulties of creating backdoors in software designed to be as secure as possible. Besides the constitutional concerns raised by such a ruling, a precedent of that scale would also require a new framework regulating what constitutes a reasonable wiretapping request in the context of messaging platforms and how compliance efforts would be financed; in Facebook's case, rewriting Messenger would be an undertaking that would likely cost the company tens of millions of dollars.