FBI director James Comey has taken Apple and Google to the woodshed for introducing encryption on their devices making it impossible for police to gain access to them.
Comey’s remarks follow criticism by the Justice Department after Apple encrypted iMessage texting and FaceTime calling.
Law enforcement officials and government have criticized the companies for making it virtually impossible to view web histories, photos and videos on locked smart phones. Last week Apple and Google announced they would introduce technology making it difficult for police to search phones.
“All of a sudden, a for-profit company has decided, ‘We’re going to step in and be the first line of defense for customers against their own government,’” Brian Pascal, a fellow at Stanford University, told The Wall Street Journal.
Comey said he did not understand why the companies would “market something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”
He added that that in a “post-Snowden world… this is an indication (some corporations) go too far.”
The Washington Post notes that while “legal and technical changes are fueled by anger over reports of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency, the consequences are being felt most heavily by police detectives, often armed with warrants certifying that a judge has found probable cause that a search of a smartphone will reveal evidence of a crime.”
“The outrage is directed at warrantless mass surveillance,” Orin Kerr, a former Justice Department computer crimes lawyer, told the Post.
Apple argues it introduced a new encryption standard to prevent thieves and hackers from stealing data from its smart phones. Its new iOS 8 mobile-operating system will by default encrypt data if users set a passcode.
In response to Apple’s announcement, a former FBI counsel told the Journal the tech company was in effect encouraging criminal behavior.
Apple is “announcing to criminals, ‘use this,’ ” said Andrew Weissmann. “You could have people who are defrauded, threatened, or even at the extreme, terrorists using it.”