Apple iPhone ban? New York looks to outlaw sale of encrypted smartphones

A proposed bill in New York doesn't demand backdoors in smartphones but will seek to ban the sale of smartphones whose encryption can't be bypassed by the manufacturer.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Will future smartphones ship with backdoor encryption?

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A proposed bill in New York seeks to require that all smartphones sold in the state can be decrypted or unlocked and proposes hefty fines for vendors failing to comply.

The proposed law marks the latest effort by lawmakers to make it easier for law enforcement to access and read encrypted data stored on smartphones.

Should the proposed bill successfully pass through New York's state assembly and senate, Apple and Google could face fines of $2,500 per device sold in the state after January 1, 2016, if a retailer knowingly sold a smartphone that could not be unlocked or decrypted by the device manufacturer or operating-system provider.

In other words, there's no requirement for Apple, Google, or device makers to create a backdoor. But if any manufacturer wants to sell a smartphone in the state, the device would need to comply with those requirements or else face a civil suit by the attorney general or district attorney.

New Yorkers who have an opinion about the proposal before it goes to assembly can give their 'aye' or 'nay' via a polling widget on the New York State Senate's page for the bill.

The proposed bill comes amid a long-running debate over backdoors and weakened encryption, in part sparked by Apple's move with iOS 8 to encrypt data stored on iPhones by default.

Apple says it's not technically feasible for it bypass an iPhone's passcode, making it unable to respond to government warrants for data stored on an iPhone.

Google has implemented similar encryption for data stored on new devices sold that run Android 6.0 Marshmallow, though currently few are in consumers' hands.

Apple has also been criticised by the FBI and US Department of Justice for implementing end-to-end encryption in iMessage and FaceTime, which it says prevents it from complying with a wiretap order for data in transit.

Techdirt, which first reported the proposal, notes that the proposed bill from New York Assemblyman Matthew Titone was first introduced on June 8, 2015 to the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection. As the publication pointed out, if the bill is passed it would likely spawn a market in New York for smartphones from other states.

Titone has resubmitted the proposal to the same committee in the wake of a controversial white paper on smartphones, public safety, and encryption by New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance.

The paper suggested that federal legislation should require that "any smartphone manufactured, leased, or sold in the US must be able to be unlocked, or its data accessed, by the operating system designer".

The proposal comes as debate heats up over the UK's so-called 'Snooper's Charter', or the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which seeks to require companies to decrypt messages when requested by the government.

US tech companies are worried that the bill amounts to a UK law requiring them to place backdoors in their products to bypass encryption.

Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo have asked the UK government to "expressly state that nothing in the Bill should be construed to require a company to weaken or defeat its security measures". Apple has submitted similar concerns, stating that, "A key left under the doormat would not just be there for the good guys. The bad guys would find it too."

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