Authorities Express Concern 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...

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