Reports of WhatsApp being made to spy on users have surfaced as of late. The operation was put into motion by an US governmental agency for spying on activities pertaining to importation of opioids from China.
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The US government agency ordered WhatsApp to spy on several foreign nationals, even when there was no evidence the users had committed a crime or even knew their names.
Recently unsealed search warrant from November 2021 shows seven users reportedly located in China and Macau, were monitored by Facebook-owned communications service – WhatsApp, as ordered by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
“The warrant reveals the DEA didn’t know the identities of any of the targets, but told WhatsApp to monitor the IP addresses and numbers with which the targeted users were communicating, as well as when and how they were using the app,” security and privacy reporter Thomas Brewster wrote for Forbes.
As a part of an operation investigating the importation of opioids from China, the surveillance was conducted. To order the monitoring, the US government only needed to state that “the information likely to be obtained is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by that agency.” The search warrant did not require any evidence of a crime having been committed.
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Authorities are able to take advantage of a 35-year-old law, which was passed through the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in 1986, the Pen Register Act. The Pen Register Act allows law enforcement to circumvent Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable seizures and searches by government and means no probable cause has to be provided for the search to take place.
One more incident demonstrates again that the US government’s Big Tech surveillance operations go far beyond the country’s borders and that is when Forbes also discovered that WhatsApp had previously been ordered to monitor four users in Mexico.
“WhatsApp appreciates the work law enforcement agencies do to keep people safe around the world,” the company states in its FAQ, adding that it is “prepared to carefully review, validate and respond to law enforcement requests based on applicable law and policy.”
WhatsApp was one of the most willing messenger services to provide data to US authorities, according to a leaked document from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last year.
This month, WhatsApp, along with competing services Signal and Telegram, was banned by the Swiss military, citing data protection concerns.