US DOJ: Encryption could get a child killed

The US Justice Department may have tried to hit below the belt and appeal to emotion rather than reason by painting a gruesome future. Because while tech companies are working towards strengthening a user's privacy, the government is getting worried that they will be shut off from gathering personal information that could potentially save lives. In particular, the new encryption schemes being implemented by Apple in iOS and Google in Android could prevent law enforcers from getting their hands on a user's information in a timely manner.

Ever since the Snowden whistleblowing incident, tech companies, whose trust ratings have plummeted because of it, have been scrambling to reinstate their images and their businesses, both in the US and elsewhere. Apple has included encryption by default in the latest iOS 8 version and Google has followed suit by turning on encryption on all new devices starting with Android 5.0. Just this week, WhatsApp, now owned by Facebook, flipped the switch and enabled end-to-end encryption for its instant messaging service. All good for the user, but a stumbling block for the government.

The government's biggest worry is that the very same features used to protect users could also be commandeered to protect criminals. In the past, these tech companies were found to be complicit, or at least complacent, in providing the government with such information, much to the shock and horror of many mobile device and network users. Now, since the encryption keys aren't stored on Apple's or Google's servers, authorities will not be able to get their hands on it even with a warrant.

The US government has been trying to convince companies like Apple to backdown from their new stance and let them in. Apple and others are unlikely to change their mind because of how the opposite situation, which was revealed by Snowden, drastically affected their business, especially overseas. Last October 1, Deputy Secretary General James Cole met with Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell and two other company representatives, where Cole dropped his prediction. He also told the Apple representatives that the company was marketing to criminals.

Naturally, it did not sit well with Apple, who called it inflammatory, not to mention inaccurate. Apple said that the government still had other means, like carriers and the user's device itself, if needed. In fact, it might actually be faster than having to go through Apple or companies, not that it's possible anymore in the case of Apple or Google. Still, there is an admission that the new system does occlude the government from large chunks of information but that it is a necessary step to ensure the privacy of users, not to mention the business of companies. The government will just have to step up its game, hopefully not by invading their own citizens' privacy again.

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal