Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has criticised Apple and Google for preventing police access to user data with improved data encryption technology on smartphones, tablets, and other devices, Bloomberg reports.
It used to be the case that police could obtain a court order to access a mobile phone, and smartphone companies like Apple and Google would allow them to decrypt the contents. But in September, both companies rolled out improved device encryption, meaning that Apple can’t hand over data, only the user can.
Speaking today at the International Conference on Cybersecurity, Vance said that new smartphones are being “sealed off from law enforcement” and spoke about the threat it poses to public safety.
Bloomberg writes that he warned attendees that if smartphone manufacturers make it impossible for law enforcement to retrieve smartphone data, that could stop police solving murders or crimes against children. “They have eliminated accessibility in order to market the product,” Vance said. “Now that means we have to figure out how to solve a problem that we didn’t create.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook published a statement on Sept. 18 detailing the company’s new security measures for iOS 8, its latest mobile operating system. Consumers are starting to demand secure communications, especially in light of the Snowden allegations, so it’s a smart move for any tech company to roll out on-device encryption.
It’s perfectly legal for companies to increase smartphone encryption to a point where even they can’t read what’s on the devices. As the Guardian points out, US law doesn’t require telecommunications carriers to allow law enforcement access to systems.
Referring to security on both Android and Apple phones, Vance said that smartphone encryption has “developed into a sort of high-stakes game.” He went on to explain that New York authorities want to “figure out how to solve” the problem of encryption. Right now, Vance isn’t naming the lawmakers that he’s working with.
US law enforcement has been unhappy with Apple’s stronger encryption for some time. In September, Chicago’s Chief of Detectives branded the iPhone “the phone of choice for the pedophile” because it’s getting more difficult for law enforcement to access files on smartphones