U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder joined the law enforcement campaign against Apple and Google’s new privacy standards this week, telling a crowd at a child sex abuse conference that the companies’ decision to encrypt users’ mobile data is “worrisome” and “thwarting” law enforcement’s ability to protect children.
“We would hope that technology companies would be willing to work with us to ensure that law enforcement retains the ability, with court-authorization, to lawfully obtain information in the course of an investigation, such as catching kidnappers and sexual predators,” Holder said Tuesday at the Biannual Global Alliance Conference Against Child Sexual Abuse Online, according to The Hill.
“When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child and to stop those that abuse children,” Holder continued. “It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so.”
Holder’s criticism echoed that of fellow law enforcement officials across the country and at all levels of government in the weeks since Apple and Google announced automatic data encryption on their smartphone platforms. In Apple’s case, that means even if agencies like the NSA and FBI force the company to hand over user data, they won’t be able to access it without a user’s password. (RELATED: Apple Will No longer Unlock iPhones For Law Enforcement, With Or Without A Warrant)
“Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile,” Chicago Police Department Chief of Detectives John Escalante said last week. “The average pedophile at this point is probably thinking, I’ve got to get an Apple phone.” (RELATED: Police Chief Calls Apple ‘The Phone Of Choice For The Pedophile’)
“What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law,” FBI Director James Comey told reporters last week. “There will come a day when it will matter a great deal to the lives of people… that we will be able to gain access [to encrypted devices].”
“I want to have that conversation [with companies responsible] before that day comes.” (RELATED: FBI Director Says Apple And Google’s New Privacy Standards Could Help Criminals)
Unlike his colleagues, Holder didn’t name the companies specifically, but the implication was clear.
“Recent technological advances have the potential to greatly embolden online criminals, providing new methods for abusers to avoid detection,” Holder said. “Many take advantage of encryption and anonymizing technology to conceal contraband materials and disguise their locations.”
“And through unceasing innovations in mobile technology, predators are continually finding more opportunities to entice trusting minors to share explicit images of themselves.”
Officials responsible for making the allegations have been accused of fearmongering in the media, as law enforcement will still be capable of obtaining traditional warrants to tap phone lines, read texts and search call records provided by service providers like Verizon, AT&T and others.
“I don’t think that the country, or the government’s found the right balance,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said last month during an interview with Charlie Rose about the company’s new privacy push. ”I think they erred too much on the collect everything side.” (RELATED: Tim Cook Won’t Let Apple Be A ‘Treasure Trove’ Of User Data For NSA)