Here’s how NCB may have gained access to celebs’ chats despite end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp defends secrecy measures

The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), probing the alleged Bollywood-drugs nexus related to the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, has widened its its investigation and called film celebrities for questioning, which include actors Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan, Shraddha Kapoor and Rakul Preet.

While Deepika will join the probe on Saturday, her manager Karishma Prakash will appear before the agency on Friday.

Prakash’s WhatsApp chats included conversations about drugs with one `D’ and central agency wanted to find out who this person was, NCB sources had said earlier.

The WhatsApp chats, part of a group conversation from 2017, are believed to have been retrieved from the cellphone of Jaya Saha, who was Sushant’s talent manager.

She was also a part of the chat group, of which screenshots have been going viral for the past few days.

Now, what raises the eyebrows is that WhatsApp brought the end-to-end encryption feature for all its messages in 2019, which means only the sender and the recipient can see the messages in circulation — not even WhatsApp.

However, there comes a backup option which allows you to store the messages and media to Google Drive or any other cloud storage services.

While the feature increases use privacy, it has been criticized by law enforcement agencies across the world as it makes it difficult to trace the origin of a message.

In this case of the NCB retrieving old WhatsApp messages, several media reports claim that the agency may have cloned a device creating a mirror image of the phone and then transfer all the data to another device.

Agencies, with the help of forensic experts, can retrieve all kinds of data including phone call records, messages, images, videos, WhatsApp chats, including anything that has been deleted.

All your WhatsApp chats get downloaded as a backup file onto your phone, as a folder in your storage folder, or gets uploaded onto a cloud server, like Google Drive or iCloud.

Jaya seemed to have used the backup feature, which provided the chats easily to the NCB.

In Jaya’s case, her chat backups may have dated back to 2015, as one of the other chat screenshots doing the rounds is from 2015.

Forensic experts can also retrieve deleted WhatsApp chats from the company’s servers. Officially, even if a WhatsApp chat is deleted, it stays on the servers for about 30 days from the date of deletion.

In India, ten central probe agencies, including the Narcotics Control Bureau, Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation, are empowered under the Information Technology (IT) Act to intercept, monitor or decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource.

Under the Indian Evidences Act, 1872, a person can be tried if evidence is found in the contents of electronic records.

With the NCB retrieving the old and deleted WhatsApp chats, concerned are being raised over the privacy of users’ data.

WhatsApp released a late night statement on Thursday to clarify its stand on the matter.

In the statement, WhatsApp spokesperson said, “WhatsApp protects your messages with end-to-end encryption so that only you and the person you’re communicating with can read what is sent, and nobody in between can access it, not even WhatsApp. It’s important to remember that people sign up on WhatsApp using only a phone number, and WhatsApp doesn’t have access to your message content.

“WhatsApp follows guidance provided by operating system manufacturers for on-device storage and we encourage people to take advantage of all the security features provided by operating systems such as strong passwords or biometric IDs to prevent third parties from accessing content stored on device.”   

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