TechnologyNebraska case: why end-to-end encryption is at the heart of the debates

    Nebraska case: why end-to-end encryption is at the heart of the debates

    By participating in an investigation, Facebook helped to charge a 17-year-old American with illegal abortion. But in the case of encrypted communications, the young woman would not have had so much trouble.

    On August 11, Facebook announced that its Messenger messaging solution would adopt end-to-end encryption of communications by default. Already active since 2016, this function still has to be activated manually by each user.

    The announcement comes just days after media coverage of a case where Facebook turned over the chat history of a 17-year-old girl to Nebraska police. Celeste Burgess was accused of hiding the body of her stillborn child. But analysis of her Facebook data revealed that it was actually an illegal abortion.

    Meta would not have had access to the exchanges of the woman

    The participation of the social network in the investigation intervened only after the presentation of a search warrant. Facebook thus provided the authorities with data on Celeste Brugess, including, among other things, information on her account, images, audio and video recordings as well as private messages.

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    If Messenger had applied its default encryption feature by default, the company would not have had access to the 17-year-old’s exchanges. Unlike applications such as Whatsapp or Signal, Meta was thus able to transmit Celeste Burgess’s message history.

    In this specific case, end-to-end encryption would not have allowed the young woman to escape justice. At the origin of the investigation, he was accused of having cremated and made the body of his stillborn child disappear. But it is indeed the elements provided by Facebook which provoked the accusations of illegal abortion.

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    The danger of mountains of accumulated data

    This case therefore revives the debate on the protection of personal data and the end-to-end encryption of communications. Many fear similar new cases. After the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision to revoke the constitutional right to abortion, women’s rights activists warned of the danger posed by the mountains of data accumulated by tech companies on their users.

    “It will continue to happen to companies that have a lot of data on people in the country and around the world,” Alexandra Givens, from the NGO Center for Democracy & Technology, told AFP. “They must at least ensure that they demand a full legal process, that the warrants are specific and not broad, that the searches are rigorously formulated and that they warn users so that they can try to fight them,” adds she.

    In the Nebraska abortion case, police asked the judge to order Meta not to notify Celeste Burgess of the search warrant for her Facebook posts, citing a risk of “destruction or alteration of evidence”.

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    Women’s rights activists recommend the use of encrypted messaging so that their communications cannot be reproached to them. “If users were using encrypted messaging, Meta wouldn’t even be able to share conversations,” concludes Caitlin Seeley George of the NGO Fight for the Future, to AFP.

    Source: BFM TV

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