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FBI Demands A Law To Force Apple And Google To Share Encrypted User Data

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Even as the tech companies are scrambling to introduce more security and privacy features into their products, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is clearly miffed with the turn of the events. Speaking at Brookings Institute in Washington DC, FBI director James Comey derided Apple and Google for introducing privacy features that cannot be unlocked even by the law enforcement agencies. Comey warned that the new encryption features recently introduced by these tech giants would enable criminals to hide their activities from the law and significantly hamper the information gathering and surveillance capabilities of the government.

In the light of the accusations that they willing co-operated with the NSA, both Apple and Google have introduced several new security features to reassure their users. For instance, iOS’ latest version now includes user-defined encryption that cannot be unlocked even by Apple. Similarly, Google has stated that Android would enable encryption by default so that user data remains secure at all times. By introducing enhanced security, Apple and Google have merely responded to user requests asking for more privacy and data security but it is also clear that these features would also prevent law enforcement agencies from accessing documents, emails and photos stored on a phone even if they have a valid search warrant.

The FBI certainly doesn’t want users to be able to shield their data from the prying eyes of the government. The agency played a key role in developing the infamous PRISM program so it does not want its surveillance powers to be diminished in any way. During his speech, the FBI director asked tech companies to introduce surveillance capabilities within their products during the design phase itself! He even derided the demand for encryption and compared the encryption capabilities offered by the tech companies to a marketing gimmick that would cost a lot in terms of security.

Comey warned that if FBI is not able to get their hands on data stored on mobile devices, the agency would push for a legislation that would force tech companies to divulge user data even if it is encrypted. In particular, the agency would like to see amendments being made to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) which is the law that governs surveillance of phone companies, VOIP and broadband services. The FBI director also envisions introduction of a regulatory fix that would enable the standardization of all communication services so that they are easy to intercept.

Asserting that FBI doesn’t want to increase its surveillance powers, Comey stated that the agency is simply struggling with the changes happening in the tech world and wants to get hold of the data that it is authorized to intercept. So while Apple and Android users are currently rejoicing that they are finally able to protect their data from all types of snooping and surveillance, the FBI clearly intends to crash the party and even wants the government to force the tech companies to keep revealing user data. It would be interesting to see how the government reacts to this demand and how Google and Apple respond to such a legislation.

January 17, 2015

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