Apple and Google’s latest move to encrypt user data on their smartphones

Apple transfers data storage onto China

By Nicole Arce

Practically everyone applauds Apple and Google’s latest move to encrypt user data on their smartphones. That is, everyone but the FBI.

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Thursday, Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey said he is concerned about the two technology titans preventing easy government access to people’s personal data stored in their smartphones.

“I am a huge believer in the rule of law,” Comey said. “But I am also a believer that no one in this country is beyond the law. What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law.”

Last week, Apple posted a new privacy page on its website, introducing new security features and explaining tips for how users can protect their privacy. The page also contains a dedicated section for how Apple plans to deal with government requests for user data.

“Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data,” says Apple. “So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.”

The announcement was soon followed by one from Google, which said that the new Android L platform set to be made public sometime this fall will come with data encryption by default. This means government agencies will have to obtain a court warrant to serve directly to the person who owns the iPhone or Android smartphone for them to be able to retrieve information from the device.

Although Comey said he believes that the FBI “should have to obtain a warrant from an independent judge to be able to take the content of anyone’s closet or their smartphone,” he also thinks that “the notion that someone would market a closet that could never be opened – even if it involves a case involving a child kidnapper and a court order – to me does not make any sense.”

Comey said the FBI has engaged in discussions with both companies regarding their “marketing” strategies but still aims “to understand what they’re thinking and why they think it makes sense.”

Technology companies in the United States have been riddled with privacy concerns since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed the government’s mass surveillance programs as they are required by law to cooperate. However, most companies have since taken a more public stance against surveillance over concerns about damaging business relationships particularly with that of foreign markets.