Meta expands Messenger end-to-end encryption in the face of illegal abortion case

A Nebraska woman and her 17-year-old daughter are facing felony and misdemeanor charges for allegedly performing an abortion after 20 weeks, long illegal in the state, and hiding a body. Law enforcement gathered evidence for the allegations this week, in part by requesting data from the Meta company, ordering the company to hand over the 17-year-old girl’s Messenger chats, reports the Lincoln Daily Star and Motherboard show.

While Meta complied with a legitimate court order, the company could not provide these chats if participants used end-to-end encryption, a feature that Meta has long promised to turn on by default for all users. Meanwhile, in a move that Meta says is completely unrelated, the social media giant announced this morning that it is testing an extension to end-to-end encrypted messages on Messenger.

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Since 2016, the company has promised to deploy the privacy feature across the board by default. CEO Mark Zuckerberg even pledged in 2019 to implement end-to-end encryption across all of its chat apps. But the company has faced technical and political challenges that have delayed a full rollout year after year, forcing Meta to turn to incremental, incremental steps. The social giant currently says it’s moving toward a global rollout of end-to-end encryption for personal information and calls by default in 2023.

For now, though, the company continued its slow march today, saying it’s testing a new set of features and initiatives related to encryption. This week, Meta Inc. will expand the number of automatically end-to-end encrypted chats between certain people. This means that these users will not have to opt-in to enable protection. Likewise, the company says it will soon expand the number of users who can opt for end-to-end encryption on Instagram Direct Messenger.

Starting this week, Meta is also testing a “safe storage” feature for end-to-end encrypted chats, so users can back up their information in case they lose their device or get a new one and want to restore their chat history. The secure backup feature will be the default feature for end-to-end encrypted chats on Messenger, with the option to lock backups with a PIN or a generated code, the company said. Users can also choose not to use backup and turn off the feature.

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