US authorities seek to draw new lines in the sand as encryption stand-off continues

It is reported that US courts are seeking user messages from WhatsApp's protected network

US authorities seek to draw new lines in the sand as encryption stand-off continues

Dominic Lipinski / PA

WhatsApp could be the new frontier in the battle between tech companies and the US Department of Justice.

The New York Times reports that the Facebook-owned messaging service's use of end-to-end encryption has frustrated officials. A federal judge has approved a wiretap but WhatsApp encryption has made it impossible for authorities to access the data.

It reports that the company has been asked to hand over messages which relate to an active investigation. The details of the specific case in question are under seal, and not available to the public.

Neither the US Justice Department or WhatsApp have offered any comment regarding these reports. The sources who spoke to the NYT did so under the condition of anonymity because the details of the case have been withheld.

As encryption technology improves, and in a world where revelations such as those contained in the files leaked by Edward Snowden are public knowledge, the current legal battles between State authorities and technology companies have been billed as precedent-setting cases as surveillance laws evolve to deal with new technologies.

WhatsApp’s founder, Jan Koum was born in Ukraine, he has previously discussed his parents fears of the State tapping their phone. In 2014 the company committed to introducing secure end to end encryption. Last month a Facebook executive was arrested in Brazil after the company refused to handover information from a user who was involved in a drug trafficking investigation.

Last month a Facebook executive was arrested in Brazil after the company refused to handover information from a user who was involved in a drug trafficking investigation. "WhatsApp cannot provide information we do not have," the company said at the time, it described the action taken by Brazilian authorities as "extreme."

US President Barrack Obama addressed the issue of encryption at SXSW in Texas - he called for compromises and cooperation between technology companies and State intelligence agencies:

"What will happen is, if everybody goes to their respective corners, and the tech community says ‘either we have strong perfect encryption or else it's Big Brother and an Orwellian world', what you'll find is that after something really bad happens, the politics of this will swing and it will become sloppy and rushed and it will go through Congress in ways that are dangerous and not thought through," he told the crowd in Texas.