Phone encryption by default: The new norm


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Since revelations about broad government surveillance programs were released in June of last year by Edward Snowden, privacy has become a huge issue in the technology world. Up until the Supreme Court case Riley v. California in June of this year, law enforcement agencies could search the phone of somebody arrested without a warrant. Many people’s phones contain a majority of their lives, making this a prime source of private data. As a response, encryption become one of the top demands on the menu for tech companies in 2014. They’re now delivering on that demand.

On Sept. 17, Apple came out with iOS 8, the latest version of the Operating System for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. This update came with one big change in particular: The Data Encryption service in the OS automatically encrypts every file you create with 256-bit AES encryption as long as you have a four-digit passcode or alphanumeric password. If you have an encrypted device, Apple will no longer hand over information on it to law enforcement agencies, even if they possess a warrant.

“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,” Apple wrote on its website.

Google doesn’t want to be left out of the privacy and security boat. According to a September article in the Washington Post, Android L, the upcoming version of Android that’s supposed to be released in November, will also come with encryption that by default prevents Google from sharing our data with law enforcement.

Law enforcement agencies bemoaned this change to the iOS, and presumably the upcoming change to Android, urging people to think of children now that they are unable to access encrypted devices.

“Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile,” said Chicago police chief of detectives John J. Escalante. “The average pedophile at this point is probably thinking, I’ve got to get an Apple phone.”

This is the same dangerous logic that has been used to erode our constitutional rights with the Patriot Act.

“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,” said Attorney General Eric Holder during a speech at a Sept. 30 conference against child sexual abuse online. “It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so.”

Is it really necessary for police to be able to go through our smartphones though? Armed with a warrant, law enforcement agencies are still perfectly capable of acquiring copies of text messages, calls and device backups on cloud services. Smartphones today contain some people’s entire lives; police departments do not need to be privy to all that information.

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