FBI Clashes with Apple, Google Over Phone Encryption

When it comes to the U.S. federal government, one thing is clear: They want mass access to consumer data, and they want it bad. In the wake of the NSA's ability to snoop into people's private files, Apple and Google have tightened their privacy practices. This, however, sits ill with the FBI and local law enforcement, which assert that Apple and Google are hampering their ability to crack down on criminals.

The Washington Post covered the issue on Sept. 25, when it documented James B. Comey, director of the FBI, slamming Apple and Google's recently revealed encryption initiatives. These two companies came under fire when the world learned last year that the NSA had the ability to plumb the depths of people's private cloud storage information.

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Comey asserted that encrypting data to the point where even Apple and Google themselves could not access customer data (which is their goal) would essentially shield malefactors and make it easier for them to break the law. Bloomberg reported that Cathy Lanier, chief of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, said that communicating by smartphone is 'the preferred method of the pedophile and the criminal.'

At present, neither Apple nor Google has responded to Comey's comments, but legality may eventually compel them to. Both companies assert (correctly) that improved encryption protocols protect everyday users from potential cybercrime and unauthorized access. However, there's no denying that this also makes it harder for law enforcement to access customer data - even when the agency has a warrant to do so.

Even if you'd prefer the FBI reading a few innocent emails without permission to a drug trafficking ring operating in your hometown, the issue is not so cut-and-dried. Timothy B. Lee, a senior editor at Vox, brought up a point of international law. Apple and Google do not only serve American customers. If the American government wants unrestricted access to data, that could easily set a precedent that would allow countries like Saudi Arabia or Russia to request the same treatment.

For now, the issue is still very much up in the air, but expect more back-and-forth as the parties involved make their positions and demands clear.

Marshall Honorof is a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com . Follow him @marshallhonorof and on . Follow us , on and on .


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