The outlines of a major battle over online privacy is starting to take shape.
Open Whisper Systems, which produces an end-to-end encryption software for a messaging services app called Signal, was subpoenaed by the U.S. government earlier this year to provide information on two phone numbers associated with a grand jury investigation in Virginia.
According to The New York Times, a part of the subpoena was to order OWS not to reveal the information request for a year.
Many tech companies contend gag orders like this are being overused by the government and are in violation of the Bill of Rights. The government counters by saying a revelation of a request could impede an investigation.
Part of the gag order was lifted when the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the government and made some of the information in the subpoena public.
The documents revealed the government wanted email addresses, history logs, browser cookie data, and other information associated with the two phone numbers
OWS countered that it could not hand over that information because it doesn’t have it.
The non-profit Open Whisper Systems is the brainchild of a man who goes by the pseudonym Moxie Marlinspike, who describes himself as a “software engineer, hacker, sailor, captain, and shipwright.”
The technology behind Signal is widely used among the world’s most popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook’s Secret Conversations and Google’s Allo. Cumulatively, the technology is used by billions
Signal also has been championed by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
One of the reasons for Signal’s popularity is that it says it keeps no metadata, which is, simply put, information about data sets. With a messaging app, it could include information about messaging patterns and times, but not the actual content of the message.
"We try to have as little information as possible," Marlinspike told the Associated Press.