Motion to Unseal Court Records Concerning US DOJ Motion to Compel Facebook

Encryption helps human rights workers, activists, journalists, financial institutions, innovative businesses, and governments protect the confidentiality, integrity, and economic value of their activities. However, strong encryption may mean that governments cannot make sense of data they would otherwise be able to lawfully access in a criminal or intelligence investigation. Accordingly, governments may seek to force the providers of encrypted products and services to undermine their own security in order to provide law enforcement with access to the plaintext of otherwise-encrypted data.

In August 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) allegedly sought to compel Facebook to comply with a wiretap order to intercept voice calls over Facebook's end-to-end encrypted Messenger app. End-to-end encryption protects communications from being understood by anyone other than the parties to the communication; eavesdroppers will only hear (or read) scrambled gibberish. Not even Facebook itself can make sense of communications transmitted over Messenger -- that is, unless it is forced by a government to subvert its own encryption.

According to news reports, the court denied DOJ's motion to compel. However, everything about the case, from the motion to compel, to the docket sheet that indexes what has happened in the case, has remained under seal. To see what occurred in the case, and to learn the government's rationale for compelling Facebook, as well as the court's legal reasoning in denying the motion, CIS's Associate Director of Surveillance and Cybersecurity Riana Pfefferkorn (in her personal capacity) joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Northern California in moving the court to unseal the docket sheet and the legal reasoning in the case.