WhatsApp encryption has given a headache to probing agencies but there is a way out to piece information

WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption was hailed by over 1 billion users but got thumbs down from the investigating agencies. The Indian law enforcement and probing agencies will find it difficult to track terrorists.

It is a tough challenge to seek encrypted information and in a country like India, negotiating with US companies can be an uphill task.

This is because asking for encrypted information through legal routes takes years and in case of WhatsApp, there is little hope for cooperation.

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However, there is only one way that could be of little help for the investigating agencies and it is metadata.

While WhatsApp encrypts data such as messages, photos, videos, audio but it does not encrypt metadata like identities of sender and recipient, their location, mobilephone numbers and time when the conversation took place.

"Definitely for law enforcement it means a big headache, but the metadata is there and with metadata, if you have a couple of other bits of information, you can piece it together. Agencies can get the metadata, but they won't get the payload unless they're able to compromise the device. And that intelligence agencies like NSA (National Security Agency of the US) have been able to do in the past," Sunil Abraham, executive director of Centre for Internet and Society, told ET.

The requests for such information are handled by Home Ministry or the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team.

But, the past record has not been so pleasant. The Indian government was involved in a dispute with BlackBerry over access to encrypted data on its messenger and corporate email service. The mobilephone company said it could not access encrypted data on its enterprise servers.

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