Government vs. Tech Industry: Fury Over Phone Encryption
The age-old question of when public safety outweighs privacy concerns might be played out again, with smartphones as the arena. U.S. law enforcement officials are urging Apple and Google to give authorities access to smartphone data that the companies have decided to allow users to block. Authorities are also considering not only appealing to company executives but also urging legislation by Congress.
The issue puts the federal government at odds with the nation's leading technology companies, and the dispute has its roots in National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's 2013 disclosure that the U.S. is looking in on phone and Internet communications with the cooperation of phone makers.
For now, the Justice Department and FBI are trying to get a handle on how the encryption features in the new Apple iOS and Google Android systems work, Bloomberg reported. They also want to know how the companies could change it to make data accessible if a court ordered them to do so.
Easier for Crooks?
Authorities fear that the new privacy features, announced earlier this month by the phone makers, will inhibit investigations into crimes, including drug dealing and terrorism.
Law enforcement officials say that in the past, evidence from mobile devices helped solve numerous crimes, since criminals tend to spend as much time on their smartphones as other people -- and in the process, often inadvertently leave behind evidence of their crimes.
James Soiles, a deputy chief of operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration, told Bloomberg that the issue of data access for law enforcement is "a significant issue....As long as we are doing it with court orders, there shouldn't be any reason to keep us from it. We want to attack command-and-control structures of drug organizations, and to do that we have to be able to exploit their communication devices."
For now there's not much law enforcement can do besides lobby Apple and Google to change their privacy policies. Tech companies have increased the encryption strength of their products in an effort to protect their customers' data from hackers -- and from government intrusion.
Not Possible in New Phones?
For its part, Apple says it can no longer bypass customers' passcodes and therefore cannot provide user data to law enforcement. Apple has previously cooperated with court orders to unlock phones or provide data from its systems.
But in a recent message on its Web site, the company said that most of the time law enforcement agencies do not ask for content such as e-mails, photos or data stored on its iCloud or iTunes accounts. It also maintained that it is not technically feasible for Apple to respond to government warrants for the extraction of data from devices running iOS 8, the latest version of the Apple's operating system.
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Posted: 2014-10-25 @ 11:31am PT
"Just don't blame the police, or the intelligence community..."
Nonsense! The police and intelligence community ard lazy and incompetent, as proven by their failure to catch the Boston Marathon bombers *after getting specific warnings*. They were too busy playing with their toys to do their jobs -- time to take the toys away.
Posted: 2014-10-06 @ 5:51pm PT
"As long as we are doing it with court orders, there shouldn't be any reason to keep us from it."
We tried it that way and the NSA decided they had the authority to collect all our call meta data, texts, Emails and every other piece of data not nailed down and then made a search program called ICREACH that allows US law enforcement to search that data....no warrant required.
Hackers found the back doors and encryption exploits the NSA put in as many security features as they could and people have been victimized by criminals at an ever increasing rate.
Foreign governments regularly hack into companies and personal files stealing everything they can get their hands on.
Our Government has not only completely failed to protect us from cyber threats of every caliber, but have participated in hundreds of billions of felonies and civil rights violations in the name of "keeping us safe".
I hope companies not only encrypt phones by default, but that the practice is taken up by makers of computers and data pads, server hosting services and every aspect on communication so that everything is encrypted by the owner of the data and unable to be accessed by anyone else.
The era of Big Brother is coming to an end and you can go back to doing things the old fashion way instead of turning us into victims.
Posted: 2014-10-02 @ 8:45pm PT
Good points all. Just don't blame the police, or the intelligence community, for that matter, when your need for privacy blows up in your faces, literally. Like 9/11. Because rest assured, it's only a matter of time before the terrorists are at it again. Privacy is important, but so is national security. If you want to live in a country where there is such a thing as privacy in communications, you're going to have to understand that national security is an integral part in protecting that right. You can't have one without the other.
Posted: 2014-10-01 @ 12:03pm PT
Law enforcement agencies can line up in court to get a proper search warrant. Without warrant, no access to my data on my cell phone.
Posted: 2014-10-01 @ 9:10am PT
@Davyd: It's not the petty crooks that are the problem. They're not the ones the government needs to monitor. It's the terror organizations and terrorists that are the problems -- the ones who periodically use their phones and email and Internet access to plot with others to blow up a subway train or a police station or a mall or a plane. They're the problem and they're the reason that the government does need some leeway with surveillance monitoring. Yes, we should all be entitled to privacy and freedom. But these are dangerous times and unfortunately we may all have to give up some of our much treasured privacy to ensure the government can thwart terror attacks.
Posted: 2014-10-01 @ 8:44am PT
Who cares if it's easier for crooks. Ordinary people have certain rights which includes privacy and freedom from government surveillance. Of course it would be more difficult for crooks if we let the government have access to anything they want. But that's not the kind of world we want to live in. We don't want to hear BS about court orders from those in government either, we read the news and know how you operate.
Posted: 2014-10-01 @ 6:12am PT
I think that the constitution guarantees the right to privacy. Unless the people change that right, then law enforcement has no right to say anything about this.