The bureau said all devices must contain backdoors to enable “lawful access by design”
The FBI has issued a warning about upcoming security updates for Apple products, insisting that the company’s plans to strengthen end-to-end encryption will interfere with efforts to hunt down criminals and terrorists.
The agency sounded the alarm shortly after Apple announced several “Advanced Security Features” should be introduced in the coming months – including new protections for files stored in the cloud – telling the Washington Post that it is “deeply concerned about the threat posed by end-to-end encryption and restricted user access.”
“It hampers our ability to protect the American people from criminal acts ranging from cyberattacks and child abuse to drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism,” an unnamed FBI spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday. “In this era of cybersecurity and ‘security by design’ requirements, the FBI and law enforcement partners need ‘lawful access by design’.”
US and allied law enforcement officials have long urged tech companies to provide open access to all devices, with the FBI frequently citing the aftermath of a 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernadino, California, when Officers were unable to enter an Apple phone used by the shooter. Although the bureau pressed the company to help it break in, Apple refused, leading to a lengthy legal battle centered on encryption.
Between 2015 and 2016 alone, Apple received at least 11 separate court orders to help police gain access to various devices suspected of being involved in criminal activity, but opposed all of them. A New York court would later find that Apple could not be compelled to unlock its phones based on the 1789 All Writs Act, which the FBI had repeatedly cited in previous cases.
Along with agencies in the UK and Australia, the US Department of Justice has applied similar pressure to other tech giants in the past. In 2019, the three countries sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, which claimed that “Companies should not deliberately design their systems to prevent any form of access to content.” Officials have suggested the encryption could interfere with investigations into “the most serious crimes” effectively asking for the ability to break any device at any time.
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Privacy advocates, including well-known national security whistleblower Edward Snowden, have pushed back against undermining strong encryption, saying it’s impossible to create a backdoor exclusively for law enforcement, and that any such security breach will also be open to everyone, including bad actors.
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