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

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Monday a bid rejected by two civil rights groups that had sought to force the release of documents detailing a secret U.S. government effort to force Facebook Inc to decrypt the calls between users of the Messenger app.

Silhouettes of laptop users in addition to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this photo illustration March 28, 2018. REUTERS/dado Ruvic/Illustration

The issue arose in a joint federal and state investigation into the activities of the MS-13 gang in Fresno, California, and revolves around the end-to-end encryption Facebook uses to protect requires the Messenger service of the interception.

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

Groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the public’s right to know the state of the law on encryption compensated for any reason whatsoever, the you. s. Ministry of Justice might have for the protection of a criminal probe or law-enforcement method.

The Washington Post (newspaper) also filed a legal command to unseal the records.

However, U. S. District Judge Lawrence O’neill in Fresno has ruled that the documents described sensitive law enforcement techniques and the release of a redacted version would be impossible.

“The materials at issue in this case involves the techniques which, if disclosed, would jeopardize law enforcement efforts in many, if not all, future wiretap investigations,” O’neill wrote, adding that the underlying criminal case is still ongoing.

An ACLU representative and a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice both declined to comment.

Both the Ministry of Justice and Facebook’s arguments in response to the ACLU itself is kept secret. However, O’neill wrote that Facebook supported the ACLU requests unseal, with a limited number of editors, while the government opposes them.

Neither the U.S. prosecutors nor Facebook have commented in public about the Messenger case because of a court gag order. But Reuters reported last year that the researchers failed in a court effort to force Facebook to wiretap Messenger conversations.

The U.S. telecom companies are required to give the police access to calls in the framework of federal law, but many apps that are exclusively on the internet infrastructure are exempt. Facebook contended Messenger was under that exemption, sources told Reuters.

Public court filings in the Fresno case, the government was intercepting all the regular phone calls and Messenger texts between the accused gang members.

An FBI statement cited three Messenger conversations that the researchers were not able to hear. The participants in these conversations were arrested anyway.

Reporting by Joseph Menn, Writing by Dan Levine, Editing by Rosalba O’brien

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