Apple may have been in the U.S. government's crosshair for quite some time now because of the locked iPhone involved in the San Bernardino shooting, but the authorities are now shifting over to Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

According to the New York Times, officials are "discussing how to proceed in a continuing criminal investigation in which a federal judge had approved a wiretap, but investigators were stymied by WhatsApp's encryption."

In many ways, it's similar to the legal case between the FBI and Apple, but it is not a matter of terrorism, which was the only aspect that authorities have cleared up so far.

WhatsApp started to implement encryption in 2014 to protect personal conversations from prying eyes. In turn, it made it next to impossible for the U.S. government to tap into those user exchanges, even with a wiretap order of a judge in play.

"The FBI and the Justice Department are just choosing the exact circumstance to pick the fight that looks the best for them. They're waiting for the case that makes the demand look reasonable," Peter Eckersley, the chief computer scientist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says.

The case with WhatsApp is arguably bigger than an issue over a locked smartphone because what results from this will define the future of wiretapping.

This isn't the first time that the company has had a run-in with the government because of encryption. A few weeks ago, the Brazilian federal police took Facebook executive Diego Dzodan into custody for refusing to comply with the investigators' demand of handing over the information stored in a certain WhatsApp account involved in a drug-trafficking case.

Considering how the messaging app has approximately 1 billion monthly active users, it's more or less the perfect target of investigators to significantly widen their monitoring range. However, WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum has an established stance on anti-surveillance, standing against any government-requested backdoor of sorts.

Both the U.S. Justice Department and WhatsApp refused to comment regarding the news.

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