Justice Department wants phone unlocking mandate for encrypted data

The Department of Justice wants a mandate that would force tech companies to provide phone unlocking tools. The FBI is involved in discussions of potential legislation forcing the matter, according to a new report. Research currently underway by both entities allegedly indicates that a backdoor could be provided without leaving the devices more vulnerable to hackers. This is the latest development in the US government's long-running effort to get easy access to encrypted smartphones.

Smartphones protected by encryption present a problem for law enforcement spanning from the local to the federal level. Without the password (or PIN, etc), officials are unable to access the device. The FBI previously attempted to force Apple to provide it with a backdoor, eventually dropping that effort after acquiring a third-party way of accessing the particular iPhone it was interested in.

However, encrypted phones remain a problem for the government. According to sources speaking with the New York Times, both the FBI and the Justice Department have been quietly meeting with security experts over the development of methods to get "extraordinary access" to encrypted handsets. Neither entity has commented on the claims.

The sources claim that officials have started talking — again — behind closed doors about seeking a legal mandate that would require tech companies to provide law enforcement with tools to bypass device encryption. This would address the issue of "going dark" — that is, of someone using encryption and therefore blocking the government's ability to access their data.

These actions are said to be in a preliminary stage, one that doesn't have an "imminent" request for legislation to be drafted. Critics have long decried the government's efforts to get a backdoor to encrypted devices.

SOURCE: New York Times