The FBI and New York District Attorney are none too pleased with Apple and Google’s latest privacy policies.
The giant tech companies announced last September that they would introduce new privacy features on their products, specifically their smartphones and tablet devices. Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android now include new encryption programs that will automatically scramble data such as photos, web searches, and contacts, and will require a digital key in order to unlock it. Apple and Google are under no legal obligation to provide decryption information, making law enforcement access to these devices considerably more difficult than in the past.
Law enforcement officials immediately expressed concern about this policy move, claiming that their policies will make law enforcement’s job considerably more difficult and will cause unintended public safety issues.
One of the first critics of Apple and Google’s new policy was FBI Director James Comey. According to the Huffington Post, Comey expressed concern in September that their policy will undermine proper law enforcement.
“I like and believe very much that we should have to obtain a warrant from an independent judge to be able to take the content of anyone’s closet or their smart phone,” Comey said. “The notion that someone would market a closet that could never be opened — even if it involves a case involving a child kidnapper and a court order — to me does not make any sense.”
Comey is referring to the inevitable problems with Apple and Google’s encryption codes. Apple and Google claim they do not store the passcodes necessary to access data such as photos and contacts. They also claim that they will never allow the government access to their encryption code information or their servers. According to Apple’s website, Apple “cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data. So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices.”
Even with a warrant, law enforcement will be unable to access a suspect’s phone or tablet device without his or her passcode, which the suspect is not obligated to provide.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has also voiced opposition to the move. According to Android News, Vance expressed contempt for the “high stakes game” Apple and Google apparently created at a cyber security conference last week. He said that law enforcement agencies will be forced to “figure out how to solve a problem [they] didn’t create.” He is going about solving the problem, he claims, by lobbying law enforcement and government officials to create new laws dealing with data encryption.
Encryption is the process of using algorithmic schemes to transform plain text information into a non-readable form called ciphertext which can only be deciphered with a “digital key.”