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WhatsApp’s Admissibility in Court may not be Reliable

July 17, 2014

A growing number of cases around the world have used WhatsApp, a mobile messaging app, as evidence in court. In 2011, a Canary Islands court “ratified a sentence for libel based in part on a WhatsApp conversation”. In 2013, four girls in Spain had to pay hundreds of euros for threatening another girl who joined their chat on WhatsApp. That same year, a man was given a near-2 year jail sentence for sending thousands of WhatsApp messages to his ex-partner. In February of this year, “the Supreme Court accepted as evidence in a drugs-smuggling case WhatsApp conversations between the accused.” While that seems harmless, two programmers, Jaime Sanchez and Pablo San Emeterio, who specialize in cybersecurity have hacked WhatsApp. They are able to create a fake number and send messages to any mobile phone. They can also change the sender of the message before it reaches the intended recipient. Jaime and Pablo have also figured out how to eavesdrop on conversations. Sanchez says that they “earn a living by looking for weaknesses that might be used by criminals against the security of private individuals or businesses.” They have been working with WhatsApp for a few years and the company has patched up several of these issues with “varying degrees of success”. However, they have not found a way to fix the latest threat, “modifying the name of the sender of a message”. San Emertio says this could impact all sorts of situations, from daily messaging to issues related with divorce or blackmail.

“Lawyers, expert witnesses and cybersecurity specialists all agree that messaging services need to accept their responsibility in all this.” It can’t be long before others find a way to replicate this hack. Our legal system must not be too quick to accept newer technology because we don’t yet know all of its weaknesses.

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