iPhone Encryption Has Hindered Investigations 74 Times, Manhattan DA Says

Do you recall the US Department of Justice’s claim about the harm Apple would cause because of iPhone encryption with iOS 8? Well, now it has 74 cases (aka reasons) to demand Apple to introduce backdoors to encrypted iPhones. The only problem is that it would undermine the security of the Internet and Apple’s whole privacy policy. But things won’t stop here: now law enforcement agencies from the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Spain are making preparations to weaken Internet security.


But the US isn’t the only place where law enforcement agencies are fighting for backdoors to encryption technologies. Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney; François Molins, the Paris chief prosecutor; Adrian Leppard, the commissioner of the City of London Police; and Javier Zaragoza, the chief prosecutor of the High Court of Spain, have penned an opinion piece published in The New York Times, emphasizing how much harm Apple’s and Google’s encryption policies cause by prohibiting law enforcement agencies from protecting people from crime.

These high-profile authors centre the article around the 74 cases the Manhattan district attorney reported — cases opened between October 2014 and June 2015 — whose full-disk encryption had hindered an investigation. The investigations that were disrupted include the attempted murder of three individuals, the repeated sexual abuse of a child, a continuing sex-trafficking ring, and numerous assaults and robberies, they write.

There is a “minor” issue here, though, as highlighted by Nadia Kayyali, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation: these cases account for less than 0.1% of all cases (estimated at 100,000 per year).

Besides the Manhattan cases, the authors also say that smartphone data was vital to the swift investigation of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in January and the deadly attack on a gas facility at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, near Lyon, in June.

What the law enforcement agencies are after was nicely formulated by British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier in July, who said there should be no “means of communication” that “we cannot read” in the United Kingdom.

When asked about the feasibility of Cameron’s proposed plan, Bruce Schneier, a renowned cryptography and security expert and fellow at the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, commented: “Most of the time we recognize that harming the overwhelming number of honest people in society to try to harm the few bad people is a dumb trade-off. Consider an analogy: Cameron is unlikely to demand that cars redesign their engines so as to limit their speeds to 60 kph so bank robbers can’t get away so fast. But he doesn’t understand the comparable trade-offs in his proposed legislation.”

(via The New York Times, EFF, Wired, Business Insider)