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Senators Deliver Ultimatum to big tech after Apple bluntly says they don't Possess the Capability of Complying with Warrants on Device Encryption

1 z Cover encryption issue


On Tuesday Patently Apple posted a report titled "Senators Threaten Apple, Facebook and other Tech Companies that they'll Regulate Encryption if they're Forced to." While we covered the general basis for the hearing, what was missing was how Apple responded to the Senators until now.


In a new report we learn more about the comments made during the hearing which which was entitled "Encryption and Lawful Access: Evaluating Benefits and Risks to Public Safety and Privacy."


Lindsey Graham, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee stated he appreciated "the fact that people cannot hack into my phone, listen to my phone calls, follow the messages, the texts that I receive. I think all of us want devices that protect our privacy." However, he said, "no American should want a device that is a safe haven for criminality," citing "encrypted apps that child molesters use" as an example.


"When they get a warrant or court order, I want the government to be able to look and find all relevant information," Graham declared. "In American law there is no place that's immune from inquiry if criminality is involved... I'm not about to create a safe haven for criminals where they can plan their misdeeds and store information in a place that law enforcement can never access it."


Ranking member Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) echoed that sentiment: "Everyone agrees that having the ability to safeguard our personal data is important. At the same time, we've seen criminals increasingly use technology, including encryption, in an effort to evade prosecution. We cannot let that happen. It is important that all criminals, whether foreign or domestic, be brought to justice."


Apple Manager of User Privacy Erik Neuenschwander responded that Apple will continue to work with law enforcement, citing the 127,000 requests from law enforcement for assistance Apple's team—which includes former law enforcement officials—has responded to over the past seven years, in addition to thousands of emergency requests that Apple has responded to usually within 20 minutes. "We're going to continue to work with law enforcement as we have to find ways through this," Neuenschwander said. "We have a team of dedicated professionals that is working on a daily basis with law enforcement."


Feinstein interrupted Neuenschwander: "My understanding is that even a court order won't convince you to open the device."


Neuenschwander replied, "I don't think it's a matter of convincing or a court order. It's the fact that we don't have the capability today to give the data off the device to law enforcement." There had been conversations about making changes to fix that, Neuenschwander said, "But ultimately we believe strong encryption makes us all safer, and we haven't found a way to provide access to users' devices that wouldn't weaken security for everyone."


New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in response that Apple should re-engineer its phones to allow access. "What they created, they can fix."


Later Neuenschwander explained that much of the problem law enforcement faced with data access was an education problem. "Given the pace of innovation and the growth of data in recent years, we understand that one of the biggest challenges facing law enforcement is a lack of clear information about what data are available, where they are stored, and how they can be obtained. That is why we publish a comprehensive law enforcement guide that provides this information, and our team has trained law enforcement officers in the United States and around the world on these processes. We will continue to increase our training offerings in the future, including by deploying online training to reach smaller law enforcement departments."


At the end of the day, the committee leadership wasn't much interested in Apple or Silicon Valley's position on the issue. The hearing was really about giving big tech an ultimatum. The time for discussion is now over.  


Senator Graham said, in regard to providing access, "My recommendation to you is that you all get on with it... By this time next year, if you haven't come up with a solution that we can all live with, we will impose our will on you." For more on this, read the full Ars Techica report.


Axios ended their report on the hearing this way: "We could end up with an encryption law for the 2020s that mandates some kind of updated Clipper Chip (likely via software rather than hardware) — not because anyone thinks it will work, but because lawmakers and voters of both parties have lost trust in the tech companies that oppose it.


A report in November by the Daily Caller was titled "Facebook Says It Removed Tens Of Millions Of Posts That Break Rules On Child Pornography, Hate Speech And Harassment." The report noted that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the tech giant is working "harder to identify" harmful content and "take action on it" during a conference call.


Facebook reportedly took action against a total of 20.8 million pieces of content related to the sexual exploitation of children, suicide, self-injury and drug and firearms sales in a single quarter being the third quarter of 2019. Facebook standards were published to prove their stance.


Facebook has taken major strides to increase its transparency regarding the content it removes and removal policies since a Sept. 28 New York Times investigation found that encryption technology gives protection to sexual predators to who engage in illicit behavior with children online and makes it more difficult for law enforcement to track such criminals.


The depth of criminal activity in just one area, child pornography, on one platform, Facebook, in a single month was staggering to learn. While people applaud Facebook for it's initial work in this area, imagine what goes on behind encryption.


Law enforcement wants to stop demented criminals and illegal activity in the U.S. and the issue will have to come to a head next year.


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