EFF, ACLU, and Stanford cybersecurity scholar Riana Pfefferkorn filed a petition in November 2018 asking a California federal court to make public a ruling that apparently denied a request by the Justice Department to force Facebook to break the encryption of its Messenger application in order to facilitate a wiretap of Messenger calls as part of a drug trafficking investigation. Facebook reportedly argued that complying with the government’s request would have compromised the security and privacy of the service’s users, but the court’s order and details about the legal dispute have been kept secret, preventing people from learning about how DOJ sought to break Messenger’s encryption, and why a federal judge rejected those efforts.
The petition argues that the public has First Amendment and common law rights to access judicial opinions and court records about the laws that govern us, including judicial records reflecting the DOJ’s efforts to compromise Messenger’s security. Unsealing documents in the Facebook Messenger case is especially important because the public deserves to know when law enforcement tries to compel a company that hosts massive amounts of private communications to circumvent its own security features and hand over users’ private data. The Washington Post also filed a petition to unseal the same records.
In Februay 2019, the district court denied both petitions. Both sets of petitioners appealed the denial and briefing is ongoing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.