Apple’s iMessage Encryption “Impossible To Intercept” For Surveillance Purposes, Claims DEA Report

Apple’s iMessage text messaging replacement and chat service has frustrated U.S. federal agents looking to get access to suspect communications, a new report from CNET reveals. According to government documents obtained by the news source, iMessage and its encryption are not vulnerable to existing methods used by the DEA, meaning that in a recent February 2013 investigation in particular, it was clear entire portions of IM communications were slipping through the cracks.

iMessage has quickly become a popular option among users since its introduction in June, 2011. The service had seen over 300 billion messages sent as of last October, and that number has no doubt grown considerably since then. It has the advantage over other encrypted chat offerings of being built-in to all iPhones, iPads and iPod touches at the system level, requiring only an Apple ID to activate and use. Once logged in, iMessage becomes the default option for communicating via text, MMS or group message, whenever the service detects the party you’re communicating with can also receive them.

Apple hasn’t purposefully built its messaging platform to be immune to government surveillance, however, and it still stipulates in its privacy policy that it reserves the right to share customer information in cases where complying with law enforcement is deemed necessary, as do most tech companies including Google and Facebook, usually authorizing disclosure of info in the face of warrants, court orders and subpoenas. But the way its technology is currently implemented, current regulations that require telecom providers to offer backdoor access don’t apply to Apple, which is a tech provider, not a telco.

The problem is clearly a headache for law enforcement, as evidenced by the DEA document obtained by CNET. But privacy critics argue that similar basic encryption is something that should be employed by cell phone service providers as it is, and note that Apple’s concern here probably isn’t an attempt to intentionally frustrate federal investigators. That means changes could come down the road to make the service more surveillance-friendly. Still, for users looking for added piece of mind, it looks like for the time being Apple’s iMessage may be one of the most secure ways available to make sure no one is listening in.

We’ve contacted Apple to see if they have any comment on the matter and will update if necessary.