Encryption software firm Open Whisper Systems has had its first fight with the U.S. government — and won.
The legal battle began earlier this year when the government issued a subpoena seeking data from Open Whisper Systems’ encrypted-communications app Signal. The subpoena demanded data for accounts associated with two phone numbers. One of the numbers was not associated with a Signal account, however, and the other number had minimal data associated with it.
“The government’s effort did not amount to much—not because OWS refused to comply with the government’s subpoena (it complied), but because the company simply does not keep the kinds of information about their customers that the government sought (and that too many technology companies continue to amass),” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which legally represented Open Whisper Systems, said in a blog post.
“All OWS was able to provide were the dates and times for when the account was created and when it last connected to Signal’s servers.”
The reason the requests are just now coming to light, is because when the government served the subpoena, it also served the company with a gag order. This meant, legally, Open Whisper Systems could not disclose what kind of data the government had asked for.
Although the gag order was to have remained in place for one full year, the ACLU challenged the ruling for Open Whisper Systems and won.
“OWS immediately recognized that even though the government required some secrecy over the subpoena, it did not need, nor could it justify, total secrecy. So OWS came to us,” the ACLU said.
“To its credit, the government quickly agreed with us that most of the information under seal could be publicly disclosed. But the fact that the government didn’t put up too much of a fight suggests that secrecy—and not transparency—has become a governmental default when it comes to demands for our electronic information, and critically, not everyone has the resources or the ability to work with the ACLU to challenge it.”
The ACLU’s victory means OWS’s customers and the public at-large can now “see for themselves just how wildly overbroad the government’s gag order was from the jump. And while this—the only one ever received by OWS—is now public, there are many more like it, hiding in the filing cabinets in the U.S. attorney’s offices across the country.”
To take a look at the now public subpoena documents, click here.
Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.
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