WhatsApp and iMessage provide a larger amount of data to the FBI than other messaging apps, according to an apparent internal document for the US law enforcement agency.
“As of November 2020, the FBI’s ability to legally access secure content on leading messaging applications is depicted below, including details on accessible information based on the applicable legal process”, explains the FBI in the document.
The infographic lists ten popular messaging apps – iMessage, Line, Signal, Telegram, Threema, Viber, WeChat, WhatsApp and Wickr.
Apple’s iMessage and Meta’s WhatsApp appear to be the worst of the ten when it comes to spilling your data to the FBI.
With a court order or search warrant in their hands, the law enforcement agency is able to access basic subscriber information and up to 25 days of searches to and from a target number with iMessage.
The FBI can also access your actual messages – but only if you have them backed up to iCloud.
WhatsApp, meanwhile, will offer up basic subscriber records and information from your address book, including contacts, WhatsApp users with you in their address book and blocked users. As Rolling Stone points out, giving up the names in your address book can be particularly risky for contacts who need to remain anonymous, such as journalists speaking to confidential sources or activists.
As with iMessage, the FBI can also request to see your messages – but only if you have an iPhone with iCloud backups enabled.
Perhaps most interestingly, WhatsApp is apparently the only app to offer up real-time information, with a pen register that provides the source and destination for each message every 15 minutes.
“Return data provided by the companies listed below, with the exception of WhatsApp, are actually logs of latent data that are provided to law enforcement in a non-real-time manner”, states the document.
However, this doesn’t appear to include actual message content.
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Unsurprisingly, the apps that appear to give up the least information are privacy-focused apps, Signal and Telegram.
Signal provides the date and time a user registered and the last time they opened the app, while Telegram may disclose IP addresses and phone numbers in the case of confirmed terrorist investigations.
Trusted Reviews has reached out to security experts for comment.