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iPhone Encryption Causes a Row Among Law Enforcement and Intelligence

October 8, 2014 | By Editor 


While devout Apple users pray for an unbending iPhone 6, the National Security Agency (NSA) and other law enforcement agencies have altogether a different concern.

Apple’s latest smartphone is the first post-Snowden era device that will thwart the investigation abilities of government aided secret agencies.

Concerns Over Apple’s Latest Technology

  • Apple has based the encryption on a complex math algorithm that makes use of a code created by, and unique to, iPhone 6 users enabling the mobile encrypts mails, contacts, and photos. The firm has also said that it will not possess the code.
  • What the tech giant is essentially saying that if it is issued a court order demanding that iPhone 6  contents be furnished to law enforcement or intelligence agencies it will provide only gibberish.
  • Further, Apple will also send a note to the investigators saying that to decipher the mobile’s mails, photos, and contacts, they will either have to break or get the code from the smartphone’s owner.
  • Decoding a six-character alphanumeric code consisting numbers and lowercases, according to an Apple’s tech guide, could take more than five years to try all possible combinations. The new iPhone has already been severely criticized by FBI Director James B. Comey.
  • Speaking at a news conference earlier this month, Comey said that his major concern was about corporates marketing something expressly that matters a great deal to lives of people. It also gives an opportunity to people to consider themselves beyond the law.
  • The FBI Director cited many kidnapping instances where the contents of a seized mobile could help in finding the victim.
  • The thought that a leading corporate would market a phone that could never be opened even in cases involving a kidnapper and a valid search warrant is baffling as well not sensible.

Secret Agencies Go Berserk Over iPhone Encryption

Intelligence agencies fear Apple’s move, the first of many new technologies, designed to thwart not only NSA but court orders that warrant information to be turned over to law enforcement.  Terrorists, cyber criminals, and some world leaders will keep their information just on the iPhone  6 making it difficult for law enforcement to implicate them, if the need be.

Until now, the kind of information the government can access is decided by Congress that passed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) in 1994.

According to the law, telecommunications firms  should built an ability into their systems in order to carry out a wiretap order, if needed. However, the law did not cover mail and other contents including content contained in a smartphone.

Company executives at Apple and Google say the U.S. government brought these changes onto itself. Edward Snowden’s revelations not only killed all the efforts to expand the law, but also made world nations suspect every piece of U.S. hardware and software.

Ranging from mobile phones to servers made by Cisco Systems, consumers feared that the products and services might have “back doors” for U.S. law enforcement and intelligence.  Surviving in the world market, especially in countries Germany, China, and Brazil, primarily depends on convincing users that their information is safe.

Apple’s CEO Timothy D. Cook has emphasized that the firm’s main business is to sell devices to people. That distinguishes Apple from its competitors that make huge profits from collecting and selling users’ personal information to advertisers, he added.

In September this year, prior to releasing iOS 8 and iPhone 6, published a revised privacy and security policy on its site to once again emphasize its commitment toward user safety.

According to the policy, the encryption method used in iOS 8 will no longer comply with court warrants asking for users data to be extracted from mobile phones. Apple will not be able to bypass a user’s passcode, and therefore cannot access the data, unlike its competitors. Decrypting the mobile is possible by only entering the passcode, under the new encryption method.

Jonathan Zdziarski, a former research scientist, viewed the encryption system as a series of lockers. In older versions of iOS at least one locker was left unlocked, which Apple could enter to access certain important files in response to a court warrant.

Now, Apple has decided to stop using that one locker and actually has a combination on it is what disturbs the most. You know the combination, get inside; if you do not know, then you cannot.

There is no other way you are gaining access into the smartphone is what iPhone 6 is essentially telling NSA, FBI, courts, and other intel agencies.

However, Apple can still obtain user information stored on its iCloud device in response to government requests since the new encryption in iOS 8 does not guard information on iCloud.

Earlier this year, Google also gave its users more control over their privacy. Smartphones using Google’s Android OS had encryption for three years.

It was not a default setting, and users have to go into their settings to turn it on, and wait for an hour for the information to be scrambled. However, Google’s next Android version ,releasing this October, will have default encryption. Both Apple and Google declined to comment on Comey’s suggestions that a stronger encryption technique could hamper  law enforcement investigations.

However, Zdziarski said that the were still several ways for law enforcement to get user data for investigations, and that concerns about Apple’s new encryption  seemed blown out of proportion. For example, in a kidnapping case, the police can still request details on call records and location information from the many phone carriers available. Further, evidence can also be collected from call logs, mail logs, Gmail logs, and iCloud, he added.

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