Apple, Google urge Obama to reject smartphone backdoor proposals

A multitude of technology firms hope to stop legislation which would allow law enforcement access to data stored in mobile devices.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Apple, Google and other technology companies are petitioning US President Obama to stop new regulations which may threaten the personal security of mobile devices and communication.

According to the letter, viewed by ZDNet, technology companies, security experts and others have signalled support for the rejection of proposals which would allow law enforcement to view decrypted data on mobile devices.

The signatories are appealing to government officials to protect privacy rights in light of companies adding increased security and encryption to mobile devices in a post-Snowden era.

Encryption and personal privacy hit the spotlight after former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden released a swathe of confidential files documenting the widespread, bulk data collection and spying activities of the agency across the globe.

The letter says "strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy's security," and as encryption becomes more widely used, the only ways to grant law enforcement access to decrypted data is the use of backdoors or by deliberately weakening security standards -- which can place users at risk.

"This protection would be undermined by the mandatory insertion of any new vulnerabilities into encrypted devices and services. Whether you call them "front doors" or "back doors", introducing intentional vulnerabilities into secure products for the government's use will make those products less secure against other attackers," the groups say.

Furthermore, the letter states:

"We urge you to reject any proposal that US 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. Such policies will in turn help to promote and protect cybersecurity, economic growth, and human rights, both here and abroad."

In October last year, FBI Director James Comey said unchecked encryption could lead us to a "dark, dark place," as law enforcement will become blind in tracking criminal suspects who are able to hide their digital communications.

The FBI support encryption as a concept, but want a method for agents to access decrypted data in investigations.

However, companies including Apple and Google have taken a different view. In order to restore public trust in mobile devices shown to be vulnerable to the NSA's spying activities, both firms have begun offering smartphone encryption which hands the keys over to consumers -- which means even by court order and warrant the companies could not hand over user data.

Apple's iOS 8 is once such system which was not met with applause from law enforcement. The operating system contains encryption which prevents the company from releasing user data, forcing police to go after the device owners themselves in the quest for data rather than the tech giant. Google reversed its original decision to enable encryption by default due to legacy issues with older Android operating systems, but some devices are offered with heightened security.

Editorial standards