Data Encryption and the FBI. Crying Wolf in the Digital Age

Apple announced that data on their new iPhone operating system would be encrypted by default, and Google quickly followed suit. Privacy advocates cheered while law enforcement groaned. What’s followed has been a full-court press by government officials to try to pressure the tech giants into changing their mind.

What Difference Does Encryption Make?

Without getting technical, encryption means that data is more secure and more difficult to access by third parties. Only the person who has the password can access the information.

The data now being encrypted by default includes the content of text messages and emails as well as the content of communications in third-party applications. Photos, documents, contacts, voicemail, and notes are also protected.

The idea is that now not even Apple or Google can access this information without a password.

So what’s the problem

This presents a conundrum to law enforcement who have, in part, relied on access to this information to track down and convict criminals. The Director  of the FBI James Comey recently presented his agency’s view on the new data encryption to the Brookings Institution. And according to him, well, the sky is falling and criminals can now use their phones to aid them in committing crimes with impunity.

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