Facebook Asked to Wiretap Messenger and Refuses

This seems to be a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Facebook has taken a lot of heat this past year for making money off user data. They did that for profit. Now that the U.S. government wants info from them, Facebook won’t comply.

They’re being asked to wiretap Messenger so that investigators can get information from a conversation that has to do with a criminal investigation. Facebook is refusing, according to three people speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters, as it would mean breaking the encryption in the app, and now they are being threatened with being held in contempt of court.

Request to Wiretap Messenger

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the MS-13 gang, active in the U.S. and Central America. The gang has been used as a trigger for the changing immigration laws in the U.S.

The government would like to wiretap the conversations of one person who uses Facebook Messenger to make voice calls. Facebook is refusing, stating that these voice calls are encrypted end-to-end, with only the two parties involved having access to it.


This is different than Facebook’s messages, Gmail, and other communication that is decrypted while it is being transmitted so that it can be used for things like advertising. It can also end up being used for court-ordered reasons.

Facebook contends the only way they would be able to comply with this request is if they rewrite the code being used throughout their service by all people using Messenger or if they hack the target of the investigation.

Facebook Ends Up in Court

This case has now reached a federal court in the U.S. but is proceeding under seal, so the court filings have not been made public.

Yet, the sources say this past week a judge heard arguments in the case. The government made a motion to hold the social network in contempt of court for their refusal to comply with the U.S. Department of Justice’s demand.

As of the moment of writing, the judge has not ruled in this case yet, but it could have an impact on other communication and social media companies if they should be forced to rewrite encrypted services.


Following Apple’s Lead

If this all sounds somewhat familiar to you, you may be thinking of when Apple faced a similar request. After a mass shooting, the FBI was trying to force them to create a backdoor for an iPhone that belonged to one of the suspects who died after the shooting.

Apple argued in court that they couldn’t be forced to create software to break into an iPhone without violating the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment of freedom of speech of their users. Investigators eventually found a way into the phone in question and ended up dropping the case.

It doesn’t appear that the judge in the Facebook Messenger case will be so lucky to have it decided without having to make a ruling.

The judge will most likely be forced to decide one way or another, either forcing Facebook to rewrite the code for Messenger to allow a third party to listen in on private phone calls, or allowing them to stand their ground and forcing the U.S. government to find another way to get this information.

How do you feel about this sticky situation? Should Facebook be forced to rewrite their code? Is it right to put all their other users’ conversations in jeopardy just so that the investigation gets the information it’s looking for? Or should Facebook prevail in this case with their users’ phone calls remaining private? What does this do to their reputation after they’ve been in the doghouse because of the use of data?

We want to know what you think. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.

One comment

  1. “Now that the U.S. government wants info from them, Facebook won’t comply.”
    I’m sure that if the government put enough zeros on the check, Mark Zuckerberg would happily make the necessary changes to Messenger. But the government wants something for nothing and is acting like a bully to get it.

    “How do you feel about this sticky situation?”
    The same as always. These government demands, if met and allowed to continue, will turn United States into a totalitarian dictatorship where nobody has any privacy at any time.

    Is the government so hopelessly helpless that they need to invade the privacy of tens of millions of people just to catch few criminals? Or are they too damn lazy to do the necessary work?

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