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DEA iMessage Memo: Agency Document Says Apple's Encrypted Messages 'Impossible To Intercept'

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DEA IMESSAGE MEMO
In this Sept. 12, 2012 file photo, a new Apple iPhone 5 is on display following the introduction of new products in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File) | AP FILE

The federal government seems a bit frustrated by Apple iMessages.

CNET News' Declan McCullagh and Jennifer Van Grove have uncovered an internal document from the Drug Enforcement Administration that claims the iPhone maker's iMessage service is "impossible to intercept" between two Apple devices.

The memo explains that these transmissions "are considered encrypted communication and cannot be intercepted, regardless of the cell phone service provider." The document says that investigators may "erroneously believe" they have a full picture of text communications on an intercepted device, when in actuality iMessages slip under the radar.

iMessage is a multimedia messaging service that operates between devices made by Apple. When the product was announced, the company explained that the technology used "secure end-to-end encryption."

McCullagh and Van Grove's report points out that the FBI has been working to increase its access to Internet communications for surveillance purposes:

Last May, CNET reported that the FBI has quietly asked Web companies not to oppose a law that would levy new wiretap requirements on social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail. During an appearance two weeks later at a Senate hearing, the FBI's Mueller confirmed that the bureau is pushing for "some form of legislation."

As both CNET and HuffPost previously reported, the FBI is concerned about what it calls the "Going Dark" problem. That is, the increasing difficulty in monitoring communications in the Internet age.

Per AppleInsider, Apple announced earlier this year that 2 billion iMessages are sent daily from iOS devices. That's a big "dark" spot for law enforcement.

Despite the messaging platform's encryption, Apple's privacy policy leaves the door open for disclosure of information to government agencies:

It may be necessary − by law, legal process, litigation, and/or requests from public and governmental authorities within or outside your country of residence − for Apple to disclose your personal information. We may also disclose information about you if we determine that for purposes of national security, law enforcement, or other issues of public importance, disclosure is necessary or appropriate.

For more details on this story, check out the CNET report here. The DEA's "Intelligence Note" can be viewed here.

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