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California Intros a Bill Banning Cell Phone Encryption

A California legislator has introduced a bill that would make encrypted cell phones illegal, in an effort to thwart the human trafficking of girls and women.

Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) sponsored Assembly Bill 1681, which has the support of the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office and crime victim’s families.

 “This bill would require a smartphone that is manufactured on or after January 1, 2017, and sold in California, to be capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider,” the document reads.

Mobile companies that knowingly fail to comply with the requirement would be subject to $2,500 for each smartphone sold or leased—a sum the law would specifically prohibit sellers “from passing…on to purchasers of smartphones.”

Also, the Attorney General and district attorneys would be given the right to bring a civil suit to enforce the law.

According to Cooper, the benefits of such a policy—what he termed evidentiary access—are much higher than the data privacy costs.

“Human traffickers are using encrypted cell phones to run and conceal their criminal activities,” he said. “Full-disk encrypted operating systems provide criminals an invaluable tool to prey on women, children, and threaten our freedoms while making the legal process of judicial court orders useless…AB 1681 would restore a critical investigative tool, while keeping our communities safe and preserving the Fourth Amendment.”

Jenny Williamson, founder and CEO of Courage Worldwide, broke it down further: “The crimes are placed in the girl’s hand via that phone.  [The pimp] makes her take her own pictures, he makes her post her own photos. So if he gets caught, the act will be on her. The crime will be on her. He uses that threat to keep her in line, that she’s going to be put in jail. The phone holds the evidence to her abuse, [evidence of her] being sold as a commodity.”

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert added to the conversation as well: “I support an anti-encryption policy that will restore the ability to access cellphone data by a court ordered search warrant.  If smartphones are beyond the reach of law enforcement, crimes will go unsolved, criminals will not be held accountable, victims will not receive justice and our ability to protect our children and community will be significantly compromised.”

A search warrant issued by a judge would be needed to tap the contents of a phone, Cooper added, and he downplayed the potential for misuse of the law for surveillance purposes: “It’s not the boogie man. It’s not NSA [National Security Agency]. It’s not Edward Snowden. 99% of the public will never have their phone searched with a court order.”

Photo © AstroStar

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