Attorney General Eric Holder is on his way out the door, but he couldn't leave without throwing some weight behind law enforcement's mounting anger toward Apple and Google's bulletproof encryption as he spoke before the Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online.
IOS 8's encryption can lock out brute force, password-guessing utilities for over five years, using a formula of escalation that increases the wait period after each incorrect attempt to input the right password. Google is expected to release similarly tough encryption in Android L.
Law enforcement agencies have been asserting that Google and Apple are creating an environment that protects criminals, as the pair plays to public fears of government snooping.
"Recent technological advances have the potential to greatly embolden online criminals, providing new methods for abusers to avoid detection," Holder said, adding: "Many take advantage of encryption and anonymizing technology to conceal contraband materials and disguise their locations."
Holder said law enforcement agencies need to have the ability to take every step that's legally available to them to protect children and intervene in cases of child abuse. He said it's worrisome that companies are thwarting law enforcement's ability to do so.
"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 said.
Apple said even it can't crack its encryption software, which virtually absolved them from warrants seeking to access information stored on products running iOS 8.
"Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data," says Apple. "So it's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8."
As Holder prepares to retire, a retired FBI chief was also compelled to speak up against Apple and Google's new mobile encryption. Ronald Hosko, who was assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division before he retired, drafted an editorial for the Washington Post, asserting that a kidnapped man would have died if the offenders has been using the level of encryption Apple now offers.
"That kind information can help law enforcement officials solve big cases quickly," stated Hosko. "For example, criminals sometimes avoid phone interception by communicating plans via Snapchat or video. Their phones contain contacts, texts, and geo-tagged data that can help police track down accomplices. These new rules will make it impossible for us to access that information. They will create needless delays that could cost victims their lives."