Mobile devices have been a treasure trove of information for investigators for years. Law enforcement could produce a court order, and gain access to the cell phone content of suspects to further their cases. However, Apple and Google are now creating devices that could be problematic for investigators.
Apple and Google have both begun offering mobile devices that are encrypted, meaning that they can no longer access information from the devices based on the issuance of a court order. These new devices are only accessible by the user, so Apple can no longer break into the phone and its systems to produce the information for which officers and investigators are looking.
Even though the introduction of encrypted cell phones is creating an upheaval among FBI, law enforcement, and other investigators, the reality is that encryption itself is not new. Google devices have been encrypted since 2011, and there have been numerous software and mobile applications available that prevent third parties from accessing cell phone data. However, Apple’s introduction of the iPhone 6 running iOS 8, which prevents the company from accessing information stored on an individual’s cell phone, has caused significant backlash from law enforcement officials who rely on this information in criminal court cases.
FBI officials are also entering in to this debate in an effort to convince Apple to change their encryption methods to allow law enforcement to have access to the information contained within a suspect’s mobile device. FBI Director James Comey has commented that Apple’s decision to market these devices “allow[s] people to place themselves beyond the law.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration has also joined the debate by focusing on the fact that officers obtain warrants in cases where they search cell phones as a means of gaining information about drug organizations. For these officials, the loss of this information could be devastating, as it removes access to the devices that these organizations use for communications relating to the purchase and sale of illegal drugs.
Even though law enforcement officials are not happy with the introduction of encrypted devices, there is little anyone can do about the situation. Mobile device companies are allowed to use encryption policies as a means of enticing customers to purchase their products. The addition of encryption provides considerably more privacy than other devices available, and this is exactly what consumers want. Today, more people than ever are using cell phones as their sole means of communication, and Apple’s decision to add encryption is a way of gaining attention from prospective clients. At this time, the only means of bypassing or stopping this encryption is for Congress to create and pass legislation to limit or remove the encryption systems.
In a previous case involving cell phones, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement must have a warrant before going through the contents of a suspect’s cell phone. Prior to this decision, officers were allowed to go through these devices since they were in a criminal’s possession. However, the Court ruled that the sheer amount of personal and private information contained on most cell phones made them similar to computers. This ruling, wherein the information contained on a cell phone must be obtained through a warrant, rather than as a routine part of an arrest, shows that technology is causing the rules to change in today’s high tech society – especially when it involves the expectation of privacy.
Much of the debate revolving around this argument is the fact that Apple’s decision ensures that all customers’ information is secure in ways that they previously were not. The backdoor access built into previous mobile devices creates the potential for anyone to gain access to a user’s information, not just law enforcement. As a result, abuses of this access have led to a country that wants its privacy. However, in the grand scheme of things, the simple use of mobile devices leaves a trail for law enforcement to follow, regardless of whether there is built in access to the device.
While the changes in encryption and data protection may cause some problems for law enforcement, those cell phones still provide information about a potential suspect’s whereabouts and movements. From a crime fighting standpoint, this information may require additional analysis, but it does not allow criminals to completely disappear as long as they are carrying the device with them.