Does Encryption Kill Children?

By
November 20, 2014

The Justice Department recently warned Apple that stronger encryption protections added to iPhones would lead to a horrific tragedy, such as a child dying, because police couldn’t access a suspect’s device, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal article is paywalled, but Ars Technica has a summary.

Justice Department officials including Deputy Attorney General James Cole met with Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell and two other company employees on October 1.  Mr. Cole told the Apple officials they were marketing to criminals.

At one point, he read aloud from a printout of Apple’s announcement, quoting a section in which the company said that under the new system Apple couldn’t cooperate with a court order to retrieve data from a phone even if it wanted to.

The Apple representatives viewed Mr. Cole’s suggestion as inflammatory and inaccurate. Police have other ways to get information, they said, including call logs and location information from cellphone carriers. In addition, many users store copies of a phone’s data elsewhere.

Criminals or Ordinary Consumers?

Apple representatives said Apple wasn’t marketing to criminals, but to ordinary consumers who store growing amounts of data about themselves on smartphones and are increasingly suspicious of tech companies. Many of those customers are outside the US, the Apple representatives said, where phone users want to shield information from governments that are less respectful of individual rights.

If the government wants more information from Apple, the company representatives said, it should change the law to require all companies that handle communications to provide a means for law enforcement to access the communications. Mr. Cole predicted that would happen, after the death of a child or similar event.

In related news, Facebook’s WhatsApp, the popular messaging app, is getting a security upgrade. WhatsApp messages on Android phones are now encrypted all the way through the transmission process and on their own servers using respected, open-source encryption techniques developed by Open Whisper Systems, the New York Times reports. iOS and other platforms are soon to follow.

What do you think? Does encryption kill children? Is Apple marketing to criminals or to ordinary consumers? Comment below.

Images from Shutterstock.

Last modified (UTC): November 20, 2014 14:12