The US has been secretly spying on a group of Chinese people using the popular messaging service WhatsApp since November 2021, in an effort to stop illegal drug sales, according to Forbes.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ordered WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging app, to track seven users based in China and Macau. The move is authorized by the Pen Register Act, which allows such tracing without the need for an explanation of the surveillance rationale.
Forbes cites an unsealed surveillance memo filed in an Ohio court as saying that the DEA agent ordered WhatsApp to track the IP addresses and phone numbers with which the targets were communicating, as well as the time and how they use the app. However, so far the DEA has not been able to find the content of the message, the reason is that WhatsApp cannot provide anything because its service has an encrypted message feature.
As reports Forbes, the case is likely related to an investigation into efforts to ship opioids by Chinese individuals and entities to the United States. Opioids are natural groups and synthetic substances, including various kinds of drugs (opiates). It is known that shipments of fentanyl, an opioid, and other deadly opioids to the United States are one of many issues that have fractured relations with China. The dispute between the two countries has escalated as overdoses in the US have increased in recent years.
In July 2021, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a record of 93,000 drug overdoses in the US in 2020, with fentanyl and its analogues accounting for most of the drug overdoses. case.
Under the Pen Register Act, federal agencies only need to provide three elements to justify tracking app users: the identity of the attorney or law enforcement officer who issued the application, the identity of the filing agency, and confirmation from the applicant that “information may be obtained in connection with a criminal investigation being conducted by that agency”.
“Apart from the three factors described above, federal law does not require an application for an authorization to use the Pen Register Act,” Forbes quoted the government as writing in the surveillance order.
Facebook’s parent company Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the DEA’s order.