Cell Phone Encryption - NSA

By Melody Gutierrez
February 8, 2016
Updated: February 9, 2016 – 7:27am

SACRAMENTO — A fight over encryption-protected smartphone data is heating up in California and New York where lawmakers and law enforcement groups are pushing bills to enable investigators to unscramble data to obtain critical evidence in human trafficking, terrorism and child pornography cases.

The bills seek to loosen the powerful encryption tools major cell-phone manufacturers have put in place to protect a smartphone user’s privacy and guard against hacking. Supporters argue law enforcement needs access to data that can help them prove or solve criminal cases, while technology and privacy groups are concerned the legislation would put a user’s personal information at risk.

“If your kid goes to meet someone and your kid disappears and we find the phone, right now — today, there is no way for us to find out who they were last texting, who they were talking to unless you have the pass code to get in,” said Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove (Sacramento County), who authored the California legislation, AB1681.

A similarly worded bill is being considered in New York. Legislation is also expected to be introduced in Congress, where proposals are being discussed in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack in December. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has called for antiencryption legislation, writing an opinion piece for Bloomberg last week saying privacy is important, “but this must be balanced with concerns over national security.”

Feinstein effort

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has said she plans to introduce legislation with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., to require companies to provide encrypted data when presented with a court order.

Encryption protects data such as photos, messages, e-mails, contacts and call history on smartphones by scrambling the information so that it can’t be seen or read unless someone unlocks it with the pass code set up by the phone’s owner.

Before 2014, virtually all smartphones had encryption protections that could be unscrambled by manufacturers so that if law enforcement took a search warrant and a cell phone to a manufacturer like Apple, the phone maker would unlock and turn over material covered under the warrant.

But now, some newer smartphones and tablets, including Apple and Google devices, automatically encrypt the hard drives so that the data can only be accessed with the log-in code set by the user. Under this stronger data encryption, companies cannot unlock protected material. That means when an officer has a warrant to search a suspect’s phone, the data can only be accessed if the suspect surrenders the pass code.

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