FBI: Mobile Phone Encryption Puts Americans at Risk

Brandon Dimmel's picture

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) director believes encrypting information on smartphones makes Americans less safe from violent criminals. In fact, James Comey suggests that smartphone companies may be marketing the feature in a way that actually encourages criminal behavior.

Largely in response to the scandal involving the National Security Agency (NSA) and Edward Snowden, the world's largest mobile phone technology companies have introduced encryption systems designed to help users protect their data against government snooping. Last week Google announced it would enable data encryption by default with the next version of the Android mobile operating system (OS), while Apple will allow iOS 8 users to encrypt data stored on their iPhones and iPads. (Source: pcworld.com)

Mobile Encryption Helps Place People "Beyond the Law"

Mobile phone encryption is an alarming new trend, says Comey. "What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law," Comey told reporters last week. He suggested that new encryption systems would prevent law enforcement agencies -- including the FBI -- from making headway in kidnapping and terrorism cases, where snooping on smartphone data plays a crucial role in preventing and solving crimes.

Comey says the FBI is working with tech companies like Google and Apple "to understand what they're thinking and why they think [smartphone encryption] makes sense."

Comey is not the only law enforcement expert who feels this way. Ronald T. Hosko, President of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and former Assistant Director of the FBI Criminal Investigative Division, recently wrote an editorial for the Washington Post in which he slammed Apple and Google for introducing mobile encryption. (Source: washingtonpost.com)

Encryption "Could Cost Victims Their Lives," Expert Says

Encryption limits "law enforcement's access to data, contacts, photos and email stored on the phone itself," Hosko wrote. "These new rules will make it impossible for us to access that information. They will create needless delays that could cost victims their lives."

Hosko went on to insist that the encryption of mobile data will protect cybercriminals, helping crooks to "exponentially increase their own success rates."

Of course, Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook doesn't quite see eye-to-eye with Comey and Hosko on this matter. "People have a right to privacy," Cook said in a recent interview. "And I think that's going to be a very key topic over the next year or so." (Source: wsj.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Do you agree with Tim Cook that people have a right to privacy, especially when it comes to mobile technology? Or are you concerned that the encryption of mobile data will only serve to empower criminals? Does the introduction of encryption by Google and Apple make you more interested in acquiring the newest versions of their mobile operating systems (Android and iOS), or just the opposite?

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bob_baer's picture

So, you're saying lock your doors but make sure you give the government a copy of your key so they can protect you? But this is only so they can make sure you're not doing anything illegal in your house? Or so they can use info they collect on what you're doing in your house just in case you're doing something illegal and the info would help them catch you?

My confidence in the government only using the data for what they initially intend is zero. My confidence in the government being able to keep the data they collect secure is also zero. (healthcare.gov anyone?)

I don't choose to do anything illegal, so the government should not be too upset that I encrypt everything...

flyfishers's picture

I agree with bob_baer Governments are whining cause it will take them longer to snoop through your phone with it being encrypted. don`t trust the government any farther than I can throw them. After taking every thing I already have they just want more.

georgegrimes's picture

To summarize the FBI position: we MUST be able to snoop on all phone conversations or YOU'LL ALL DIE!! Sounds like hyperbole to me. That's pretty much like saying that the FBI must be able to wire-tap all land lines without a warrant or people will die. Why is James Comey trying to create hysteria?

sssteve72_3253's picture

I have no doubt the government snoops through peoples phone chats or emails etc without probable cause to do so. I also have no doubts that encrypted phones will surely be used by terrorists in an attempt to conceal their evil plans to blow up whomever they choose. On one hand people need to quit believing that if you just leave terrorists alone they will go away or if you give them a hug it will make everything better.

Does any government look through stuff of people who aren't criminals? Absolutely. do they prefer to do that and hope to look through all sorts of peoples stuff? Nope... the key is do they believe what they are looking through might be related to an illegal activity? I think yes. It doesn't serve them to waste their time running through millions of emails of just trivial nothing.

Privacy at all costs?? or Open view of everything at all costs? I think any extreme view including both of these is wrong and somewhere in the middle is where it needs to lay. Phones that purposely encrypt information so the authorities cannot review it falls under "privacy at all costs" viewpoint and is not a good direction to go.

darylhutchins's picture

If Big Brother wants to snoop my electronic communications, he/she/it is quite welcome to do so. The only problem I have with "them" doing so is that it would give them less time to spend snooping all you paranoid wanna-be terrorists.

Oh, the "Revolutionary Idea": don't communicate anything illegal and you won't have anything to be concerned about!

darylhutchins's picture

PS: Isn't it just mildly annoying that encryption is only going to put **Americans** at risk!

stooobeee's picture

There should always be some measure of balance between freedom and security. Both the Government and the citizen should have rights protected and enforced by the Constitution. The Constitution is rule of law; if both the Government and citizen abide by it, there are no problems. When Government grows too powerful, and we yield to the power it can wield, we are no longer a Republic. Many people are all too willing to hand over their liberty without thinking that there are consequences. "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely", penned quite appropriately by Baron Acton (1834–1902), serves as a reminder that we have certain inalienable rights given to us by our Creator. They are non-transferable!

georgegrimes's picture

”Those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security.”
Ben Franklin