US Attorney General Slams Strong Phone Encryption

US Attorney General Eric Holder has become the latest senior official to argue against stronger privacy enhancing encryption on smartphones, claiming it has emboldened online criminals and child abusers.

In a speech to the Biannual Global Alliance Conference Against Child Sexual Abuse Online, Holder claimed it was “worrisome” that some technology companies were “thwarting” the ability of law enforcement to step in and stop child abuse if a minor is in danger.

Although he didn’t mention Apple and Google by name, it’s clear he was referring in part to new encryption capabilities in iOS8 and the forthcoming version of Android which enable users to protect information on their phones so that no-one else can access it.

“Recent technological advances have the potential to greatly embolden online criminals, providing new methods for abusers to avoid detection,” Holder argued.

“Many take advantage of encryption and anonymizing technology to conceal contraband materials and disguise their locations. And through unceasing innovations in mobile technology, predators are continually finding more opportunities to entice trusting minors to share explicit images of themselves.”

On a more positive note, he claimed that it’s “fully possible” to both protect personal privacy and “permit law enforcement to do its job,” and said the US is “stepping up our efforts to build strong partnerships with technology companies, which can be important allies in this fight.”

“We would hope that technology companies would be willing to work with us to ensure that law enforcement retains the ability, with court-authorization, to lawfully obtain information in the course of an investigation, such as catching kidnappers and sexual predators,” Holder added. 

The outgoing attorney general echoed the sentiments of FBI director James Comey, who last week expressed concerns that smartphone firms are effectively “marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law."

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