You may have been able to call a friend without getting a warrant if you used a service like Signal, according to a new report from the Center for Democracy and Technology.
The report cites the FBI’s “Dear Colleague” letter that allows users to use a phone number for a phone conversation without having to get a court order.
But a new study suggests you can’t rely on these sorts of safeguards without going through a process of verification.
The researchers wrote that the FBI is relying on a flawed system that’s been used for years, and in some cases has been used to justify warrants for surveillance.
According to the report, Signal’s “confirmation” feature was used in just seven out of 2,845 calls the FBI requested.
The company declined to comment for the report.
Signal, which is owned by Google, has previously said it would only provide data that it collects through its service, rather than providing it directly to law enforcement.
But the company has been increasingly pushing for greater transparency on how data it collects is used, and more privacy protections around its service.
The new study was conducted by the Center on Government Oversight and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The group is a nonprofit that seeks to improve government surveillance practices and privacy protections, and the group noted that the government’s reliance on a poorly-documented process that’s rarely used to authorize warrantless surveillance “may lead to an unjustified increase in government surveillance.”
The report found that “the FBI’s reliance upon Signal and other platforms for obtaining data on its users without a court warrant has made it easier for it to obtain information that has already been obtained.”
But the report also noted that it’s not uncommon for government agencies to rely on a third-party provider to provide information to law-enforcement agencies, which means the FBI could still obtain information from the third party.
The FBI and other agencies are using the “Confirmation” program to authorize law enforcement requests for information that was not legally obtained, according the report from CGE and EFF.
According the report: Signal’s Confirmation feature, which the FBI says allows users of Signal to use their phone number as a telephone number for the purpose of making phone calls without a judge’s permission, allows law enforcement to obtain the information without a phone court order, as long as they first confirm the call is authorized.
The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees Signal, has not responded to Ars’ request for comment.
“The FBI is using Signal’s confirmation feature to obtain data that was never authorized and has no legitimate purpose other than providing law enforcement with the information that law enforcement needs,” EFF wrote in a statement.
“As the FBI and others in law enforcement are using Confirmation to obtain this type of information, it’s troubling that the Federal Communications Board continues to ignore the concerns raised by the EFF and the public and continues to rely upon a poorly documented process for authorizing warrantless wiretapping.”
The FBI is also relying on “confirmations” to authorize warrants for wiretaps, according that report.
“While the FBI may have the capability to obtain warrantless metadata, the FBI has been unable to obtain warrants for metadata that has never been obtained or used, even in limited circumstances,” the report states.
“Moreover, the information the FBI uses for warrantless data collection is not necessarily the information itself that was lawfully obtained.”