A new bill proposed in New York could see that all phone manufacturers be required to implement a way for law enforcement agencies to access and decrypt user devices. This bill is somewhat similar to the Investigatory Powers Bill currently being debated in the UK, which Apple has voiced its opposition towards. Apple and Tim Cook have repeatedly stated that government agencies should not have any access to user devices or data, whether be through a built-in backdoor or other means.
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The bill making its way through the New York state assembly specifically states that “any smartphone manufactured on or after January 1, 2016, and sold or leased in New York, shall be capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider.” Should a phone manufacturer neglect to implement such a tool, the assembly would impose a $2,500 fine for each infringing device (via On The Wire).
While this bill theoretically doesn’t give government agencies direct access encrypted data, Apple implementing such a measure would force it to compromise its stance that there should not be a sacrifice in privacy for national security. In the past, Tim Cook has stated that any decrease in encryption, which this bill would require, would lead to unintended people gaining access to user data.
The Investigatory Powers Bill in the UK is similar and has the support of UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Like the New York bill, the Investigatory Powers Act would also mean that Apple would have to stop encrypting iPhones, iMessage, and FaceTime and hold a key with direct access to user data, again creating a backdoor.
Just last week, Tim Cook and other Silicon Valley executives met with White House officials to discuss the use of social media and technology in the fight against terrorism, radicalization, and propaganda. During the meeting, Cook again voiced his stance that there should be in no way, shape, or form, a backdoor to user data. The Apple CEO urged that it is up to the White House to make that ruling and enforce a “no backdoor” policy.
In the past, Apple has said that it has no way to access data on devices that are passcode protected by the user. In response to that, the Department of Justice came out and said that Apple should be required to unlock any encrypted data because iOS is “licensed, not sold” to customers.
The next step for the New York state bill would be a move to the floor calendar, followed by votes in the assembly and senate. Part of the bill reads as follows:
“The safety of the citizenry calls for a legislative solution, and a solution is easily at hand. Enacting this bill would penalize those who would sell smart- phones that are beyond the reach of law enforcement.
The fact is that, although the new software may enhance privacy for some users, it severely hampers law enforcement’s ability to aid victims. All of the evidence contained in smartphones and similar devices will be lost to law enforcement, so long as the criminals take the precaution of protecting their devices with passcodes. Of course they will do so. Simply stated, passcode-protected devices render lawful court orders meaningless and encourage criminals to act with impunity.”