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Apple, Google encryption of phone data is 'worrisome,' could jeopardize 'catching kidnappers and sexual predators': US Attorney General

2 October 2014, 7:41 am EDT By Nicole Arce Tech Times
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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder plays the “Save the Children” card, tells child abuse activists that Apple and Google’s full phone encryption systems are not helping them catch criminals.  ( North Charleston )

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is the latest among a handful of high-ranking law enforcement officials to join the outcry against Apple and Google's latest security measures, which prevent authorities from taking control of a device unless they approach the device owner himself.

In his prepared remarks at a child abuse conference in Washington on Tuesday, Holder said he finds it "worrisome" that technology companies are blocking the government's efforts to run after criminals, who, like everybody else, are turning to their smartphones to conduct their activities. Holder did not specifically name companies, but his speech comes just after Apple announced that it will enable full encryption of its iOS 8 devices and will no longer have access to customer data. Google followed with an announcement of its own that it will turn on full phone encryption by default in its upcoming Android L to be released sometime in October.

"We've seen that some of the most dangerous criminals will not hesitate to migrate, physically and online, to nations where they think they can remain anonymous," Holder said. "That migration is making online child exploitation an increasingly borderless crime, as perpetrators collude in order to attempt to evade law enforcement by jurisdiction-hopping."

Holder further called on technology companies 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."

Last week, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey spoke at a press conference telling reporters that he is concerned of Apple and Google "marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law." Andrew Weissmann, chief FBI lawyer, also said that criminals could "go dark" using the tools provided by both companies, although he admits that technology companies are not prohibited by law to include encryption systems in their devices. The only way to ensure that the authorities gain easy access to devices is if Congress decides to pass a law.

Technology companies have turned increasingly aggressive about enforcing privacy protection measures to keep their users safe from the prying eyes of cyber-criminals and the government following Edward Snowden's 2013 revelations of a government spy program by the National Security Agency. In January, Apple, Google and a host of other major technology companies including Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook were able to obtain permission from a secret court to publish details about how government agencies request for user data. They are also pushing for new legislation that will allow them to disclose more details about the data requests.

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