The Narcotics Control Bureau’s (NCB) investigation into the drug angle linked with actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has landed many Bollywood A-listers in hot waters. This happened after their WhatsApp chats over the use of banned drugs started surfacing in the media.
This has raised questions on WhatsApp’s encryption protocols and if the chats can be accessed. Let’s find out more
Can WhatsApp chats be accessed?
According to an IANS report, security and investigation agencies have the right to create a clone of a phone on another device. This gives them access to deleted messages by creating a mirror image of the phone. This also helps them transfer data to another device.
In this case, the Enforcement Directorate had seized and cloned the cell phone of Rhea Chakraborty during money laundering probe, and later the NCB used it in their investigation.
Also, forensic experts can retrieve data very easily by cloning and creating a mirror image of the phone. This way they can access all types of data like messages, call records, WhatsApp chats, images, and even smartphone’s cloud services, including the content that might have been deleted.
Is encryption being compromised?
End-to-end encryption means the message is visible only to senders and receivers and not even WhatsApp can access the data.
“Whenever you send an image or message, it gets recorded in your phone’s memory. However, the video call or audio call doesn’t get saved. It shows that the call was made but what was spoken in the call will not be saved,” said Ashok Mishra, an advocate.
The encryption isn’t being compromised in this case. However, they’ve found a loophole. If the data is in “rest” or not in transit or in your device, it can be accessed by others easily. In India, in many police cases the police puts enormous pressure on the accused and the suspects to share passwords of their device where the data is stored.
In the drug probe here, the encryption wasn’t the issue because the phone was cloned and the chat was recovered.
Violation of privacy or inadmissible in court?
In this drug probe, the chat is being recovered by forensic experts and hence this is legal.
“Technically, if the police are involved and they have the needed permission from the authorities, it is legal. However, if someone unethically accesses your deleted chat or personal information without your permission and without adhering to the law, then it will be illegal,” said Mishra.
About privacy: With Personal Data Protection Bill still pending, there isn’t a lot of protection right now. Also, the government had argued in the Supreme Court that privacy is not a fundamental right.
The WhatsApp chats’ admissibility in court depends on how much the court views the chain of custody on digital data as defined under the “Indian Evidence Act” including issues like the Mac address of the device, Hash value, etc. It is necessary to assure the court that the evidence is authentic and not tampered with.