Why Google and Apple Don't Want to Give Law Enforcement the Master Key to Your Data

Technology giants send a message about encryption to President Obama.

May 19, 2015, 11:28 AM
PHOTO: Apple, Google and other technology giants have signed a letter urging President Obama to support device encryption.
Apple, Google and other technology giants have signed a letter urging President Obama to support device encryption.
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— -- Google, Apple and Facebook are among the biggest names in technology that have signed an open letter to President Obama today asking him to reject back doors that could allow law enforcement to access encrypted data.

Posted online by New America's Open Technology Institute, the letter asks the government to stay out of encrypted data in computers and mobile devices -- or risk undermining information security. It was also signed by dozens of cyber security experts and trade groups.

At issue is whether the government should be pushing technology companies to implement so-called back doors to their operating systems, allowing law enforcement a way to bypass encryption and get information to track down terrorists and other criminals.

"We urge you to reject any proposal that U.S. companies deliberately weaken the security of their products. We request that the White House instead focus on developing policies that will promote rather than undermine the wide adoption of strong encryption technology," the letter said.

By giving the government the master key to decode encrypted data, the signatories said it could leave billions of people vulnerable to cyber criminals and deal a detrimental blow to information security.

Apple last year announced it would turn on encryption for iOS 8 by default, meaning law enforcement would have to have a person's passcode to access any data on an iPhone. Google's Android Lollipop also offers users the chance to opt-in to encrypt their data.

FBI Director James Comey told Congress last year he was concerned that smartphone data could become inaccessible in key cases, even with a court order, making it difficult to catch criminals.

The signatories of the letter asked Obama to reject any proposals to insert a back door into their operating systems and threw their support behind a December 2013 report from the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies calling for an increase in the use of encryption.

By protecting data, they said "such policies will in turn help to promote and protect cybersecurity, economic growth, and human rights, both here and abroad."

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