US attorney office criticises Apple and Google over encryption

A report issued by the Manhattan district attorney’s office on smartphone encryption and public safety has revealed that Google and Apple are able and willing to unlock devices, but not for much longer.

It is claimed that Apple can extract information for law enforcement purposes, even without the user’s permission, providing they have physical access to the smartphone or table. Android devices, however, can be reset remotely. In both instances, the devices must not be encrypted.

Read more: ProtonMail CEO warns against weakening encryption to counter terrorism

Therefore, the Manhattan report is highly critical of both Apple and Google’s recent decision to implement “full-disk encryption” on their devices.

“Apple’s and Google’s decisions to enable full-disk encryption by default on smartphones means that law enforcement officials can no longer access evidence of crimes stored on smartphones, even though the officials have a search warrant issued by a neutral judge,” the report reads. “Apple and Google are not responsible for keeping the public safe. That is the job of law enforcement. But the consequences of these companies’ actions on the public safety are severe.”

Although some Android and iOS users will be using older versions of their operating system without encryption as default, the district attorney’s office is well aware that these individuals will decrease in number. The report argues that the previous security protocols, which enabled law enforcement to recover information, did not introduce significant vulnerabilities so there was no need to move towards full-disk encryption. “Those systems appeared to very well balance privacy and security while still being accessible to law enforcement through a search warrant,” the report adds.

Read more: Apple will work with the government, but encryption stays

In amongst strongly-worded criticism of both Apple and Google, the report proposes a bill that wold penalise smartphone manufacturers that sell devices beyond the reach of law enforcement. In the meantime, it seems that individuals with a strong passcode, and using either iOS 8/Android Marshmallow or above, are safe from police scrutiny.