Facebook, Google among tech giants expanding encryption in wake of Apple battle

WhatsApp is said to be next to undergo scrutiny in the Justice Dept.'s ongoing war against use of encryption by tech industry.

(Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

Given that WhatsApp is said to be next in the Justice Dept.'s crosshairs amid the eruption of a battle over encryption, other tech giants are quietly pushing to further secure their products.

Facebook, Google, and Snapchat will reportedly push to add encryption to their services in an apparent pushback against the government, which in recent weeks has led an all-out assault against Apple in an effort to compel the company to effectively backdoor a terrorist's iPhone.

FBI could demand Apple source code and keys if iPhone backdoor too 'burdensome'

The FBI could create "ghost" iPhone updates that imitate legitimate Apple software.

Google is "exploring extra uses for the technology" behind an encrypted email project, said to have long been in the works.

Snapchat, the image-expiring sharing app, is also working on a secure messaging system using its platform.

And WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, will in the coming weeks support end-to-end encryption for its voice calls, a move that will likely anger prosecutors who are currently seeking a wiretap order for encrypted messages.

For Facebook it's more personal. Last week, the company's Latin America director was briefly jailed for failing to comply with an order relating to a criminal investigation in Brazil. The social networking argued that it "cannot provide information we do not have."

It's the latest twist in the encryption battle between tech giants and the federal government after the Justice Dept. brought a case against Apple to compel it to help its agents break into the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists.

Apple refused to help the feds "backdoor" its own product, arguing that it can't crack the encryption, and lodged a formal appeal.

The iPhone maker has received an outpouring of support from fellow tech companies, but this is the first time that reports have suggested Silicon Valley companies are backing up their words with actions.

The Justice Dept. has implied that it may demand more than just the encrypted content, such as the iPhone source code and signing keys -- which critics argue would give the government the ability to create "ghost" software that imitate legitimate Apple updates.

It's a fear that may drive some companies outside the reach of the US government's hands.

Given the inhospitable legal landscape in the US, some smaller, nimbler companies may take a leaf out of Silent Circle's book, which famously moved to Switzerland in part to avoid the prying eyes of the US government.

But tech giants with an established US base have little option but to comply with government demands seeking access to customer data, or radically rethink how they approach product security.

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