FBI Tells Apple, Google Their Privacy Efforts Could Hamstring Investigations

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iPhone 6 (WHO-HD)

iPhone 6 (WHO-HD)

Apple and Google have won praise from privacy proponents for efforts to encrypt their latest smartphones in a way that would prevent law enforcement from accessing certain private data. The FBI, not so much.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey told reporters Thursday that the agency is talking to both companies to raise concerns that their privacy efforts could hinder criminal investigations.

Apple last week touted that with release of its latest operating system iOS8, it no longer could bypass the smartphone user passwords.

“So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8,” Apple said in a blog post.

Google quickly followed suit, saying it already had such technology in phones running its Android operating system, but that “as part of our next Android release, encryption will be enabled by default out of the box, so you won’t even have to think about turning it on.”

Comey said that he was “very concerned” that the companies were “marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law.”

Revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of government mass surveillance programs has posed problems for U.S. tech companies, which are required by federal law to cooperate with surveillance program requests. Concerned that the revelations will damage their businesses, particularly in foreign markets, the companies have taken a more public role in pushing back on the surveillance programs.

Yahoo, which fought a losing court battle against some surveillance requests, recently won a fight to make public secret court documents detailing that battle. The company used the information to tout its efforts to protect the privacy of its customers.

The FBI director said he understood the privacy concerns in the wake of Snowden. But he noted that the FBI sometimes has an urgent need to access data, such as in cases of kidnappings or terrorism.

Comey said he supports the idea that the FBI should have a warrant from a judge to take a look into someone’s closet, or smartphone, but added he couldn’t support “the notion someone would market a closet that would never be open.”

5 comments

  • Rob Cox

    Comey said that he was “very concerned” that the companies were “marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law.” “WE THE People” kudos to Apple and Google

    • harrisbock

      Rob Cox, I agree. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…Some judges hand out search warrants like candy on Halloween. What next, law enforcement wanting to ban high security doors and locks because it prevents them from easily breaking into a building to search? They already see people who use passwords and encryption as guilty of something.

  • harrisbock

    This could be an advertising false flag. With all the rules/laws from the FCC and government regulation on encryption, I find it hard to accept the government to allow hard encryption that they can not override to be allowed in commerce.There is always a hidden back door. What if a customer locks themselves out of their phone? No way to help them other than buying a new device?

  • grendal113

    It isn’t to put us above the law its to force compliance of our security. Our fourth amendment protections that get trampled for expediency.

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