Meta data helped police convict 17-year-old girl

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In Nebraska, a woman and her 17-year-old daughter are accused of performing an abortion after 20 weeks, which has been illegal in the state since Roe v. Wade was overturned last month.

Reports this week revealed that law enforcement gathered evidence using Meta (Facebook) data, among other things. A warrant allowed them to compel the company to provide them with records of the girl’s Messenger chat histories.

While Meta complied with this legal court order, the company would not have been able to turn over the chats if the participants had used end-to-end encryption, a feature Meta promised to enable by default for all users.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg even pledged in 2019 to implement end-to-end encryption across its chat apps. But the company has faced technical and political challenges that have delayed the rollout each year.

Today, the company says it is moving toward a « global rollout of end-to-end encryption by default for personal messages and calls in 2023. »

The company is testing a group of new encryption-related features and initiatives to achieve this. As an example, starting this week, Meta is testing a secure storage feature for end-to-end encrypted chats, so users can back up their messages in case they lose a device or get a new one and want to restore their chat history.

The feature is designed so that Meta cannot access the backups. Users will also have the option to decline backups and disable the feature.

This case has caused a lot of people to react, the hashtag #DeleteFacebook has spread on Twitter and activists denounce the role of the social networking giant in the conviction of the young woman.

Indeed, since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the way technology companies handle user data has become increasingly scrutinized by privacy advocates.

Once a court orders a request for information, companies can either comply with the legal request or be in contempt of court and face a fine.

Still, in March, a federal judge ruled that Virginia authorities violated the Constitution by using Google’s location data to find people near the scene of a bank robbery in 2019.

Since then, the police tactic has been banned because it gives away information about the location of many innocent people.

This decision is one of the first of its kind and will make it harder for police to continue using an investigative technique that has exploded in popularity in recent years.

 

By Mélissa Walehiane

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