While Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is jailed awaiting trial, his WhatsApp and Signal messages have been subpoenaed.
Encrypted messaging apps and email service providers are popular with users, not just for personal security or business-related communications. Apps like WhatsApp initially became the domain of collaborative partners who needed a secure way to share files and calendars without worrying about compromising things like projects and potential mergers. Then, it became the tool of trade for shady people with a hint of power, like Trump attorney Michael Cohen and campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Both Cohen’s and Manafort’s WhatsApp and Signal messages have been subpoenaed, and on June 15th, Manafort was sent to jail pending trial for a variety of charges, including witness tampering. The Robert Mueller investigation has requested countless pages of these encrypted messages, which begs the question: how are you Trump’s personal attorney or his campaign manager and not know that encrypted messages can be retrieved by an outside source?
One recently reported aspect to social media and messaging apps is our blind faith that they work the way they say they do. Snapchat users learned the hard way that their “snaps” do not, in fact, disappear once they’re sent. Not only do unopened snaps remain on the company’s servers for 30 days (or longer, if the police request them), but there’s also the fact that they have been retrieved from the cellular service providers’ servers. At the same time, Facebook recently admitted that a “bug” changed the privacy settings on 14 million users’ posts to public rather than friends only, and that the bug was in effect for over a week; it two another two weeks for the company to inform the users that their posts had been exposed all that time.
So how do messages fall into government hands if WhatsApp is encrypted?
Depending on the setting you chose when you installed it, they’re backed up to your iCloud account, which officials subpoena Apple for. If your WhatsApp settings store a copy in your iCloud, they’re basically sitting there in easily accessible plain view, as both the accused and investigators now know.
It’s worth noting for anyone who is unfamiliar with the process that the person who is being investigated doesn’t necessarily have to be the one to supply the messages to the police, as messaging is a two-way street. The other party can willingly hand them over, or officials can subpoena the other party’s communications.