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US offical warns: "A child could die" if police can't access encrypted phones

Justice officials in the U.S. say new smartphone encryption technology featured in the Android 5.0 Lollipop update could put lives at risk. During an October meeting, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told Apple about the perceived risks of encrypting all cellphone data, the Wall Street Journal reports.

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Android 5.0 - Lollipop has enhanced security features like end-to-end encryption. / © ANDROIDPIT

Cole offered the Apple team a gruesome prediction: At some future date, a child will die, and police will say they would have been able to rescue the child, or capture the killer, if only they could have looked inside a certain phone.

Executives at Apple reportedly dismissed this view, calling the example "inflammatory". During a follow-up meeting, technical experts at Apple proposed different ways for law enforcement to collect data for investigations. For instance, cellphone carriers keep call logs and some users back up data in the cloud.

However, even with these workarounds, police will be unable to decrypt all the data on a cellphone. As reported by AndroidPIT, security features on Android 5.0 Lollipop are the operating system's strongest to date.

5.0 Lollipop features full encryption from the moment a device is turned on. Google explains that data is protected using a unique key that never leaves the device. There's no need to remember to enable encryption as it is switched on by default for everyone.

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Smart Lock is another security feature in Android 5.0 - Lollipop.  / © ANDROIDPIT

New devices like the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9 are automatically encrypted. Google warns that the encryption can’t be turned off, unless the devices are factory reset. Apple uses similar encryption features in iOS 8.

App developers are also following the encryption trend. On Tuesday, Facebook-owned Whatsapp announced it was encrypting all incoming and outgoing data.

The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, has also spoken out about encryption technology. During a speech in October, Comey argued that police need access to cellphone data.

We have seen case after case—from homicides and car crashes to drug trafficking, domestic abuse, and child exploitation—where critical evidence came from smartphones, hard drives, and online communication.

In Louisiana, a known sex offender posed as a teenage girl to entice a 12-year-old boy to sneak out of his house to meet the supposed young girl. This predator, posing as a taxi driver, murdered the young boy and tried to alter and delete evidence on both his and the victim’s cell phones to cover up his crime. Both phones were instrumental in showing that the suspect enticed this child into his taxi. He was sentenced to death in April of this year.

Comey furthered his comments during an interview with CBS News' 60 Minutes.

"The notion that we would market devices that would allow someone to place themselves beyond the law, troubles me a lot," Comey told journalist Scott Pelley.

What do you think about the latest encryption changes to Android? Do you think there is a real reason to worry?

Readers' favorite comments

  • My1 Nov 24, 2014

    WHy do they even care. Google is from US and they have the patriot act, they could bring it to court and let the government decrypt it...

    I dont even doubt that the main key leaves the device, but I think that there's a second key for the government.

    but really, what about privacy? those guys are annoying. Banning Kinder Surprise but allowing guns...

13 comments

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  • pete b Dec 4, 2014 Link to comment

    How can you tell if they are lying? The lips are moving.

  • I don't want to sound mercenary, but the ratio of encrypted 'child killer' phones versus innocent citizens having their civil liberties violated by unencrypted communications intercepted by the NSA has got to be about 1,000,000:1.

  • CJ Brown Nov 26, 2014 Link to comment

    A) we will have unmanned drones that will sniff out your dna used by local Police Force (or Federal Agents) that make this argument null & void


    B) I make you a deal! I un encrypt my smart phones as soon as the Vatican stops allowing Priests to molest children (and gives up their diplomatic immunity that keeps then out of jail!)

  • Bojan M. Nov 24, 2014 Link to comment

    They are pathetic and disgusting. That's what I think of them and their little examples.

    • My1 Nov 24, 2014 Link to comment

      I just say: USA doing its thing...

      • Bojan M. Nov 24, 2014 Link to comment

        Yeah, you're right. I shouldn't pay much attention to this, but I still get surprised to what lengths they would go... No scrupulousness at all...

      • My1 Nov 24, 2014 Link to comment

        and they even shot (read: killed) a kid with a toy gun even though the person who reported it's probably not a real one, btw do they know what a "stun shot" or whatever we wanna call it, like the legs, or the arms, anywhere towards the center ot the head is fatal, especially with a 12 year old child, those guys need some anatomy courses...

  • Exactly. We would need less encryption, if the govt/police was not behaving as our enemy.

  • I like the encryption feature. It gives me the feeling that Im not being watched all the time. It gives a little more privacy.

    • My1 Nov 24, 2014 Link to comment

      You will still be watched especially by apps, since they are within th encrypted context and apps like facebook use their permissions to read the data.

      • Of course but I only use facebook to look people up and contact them if I have no other way of reaching out to them. I'm not really bothered by facebook.

        Just stuff like text files that I wrote about an idea that I have. I rather keep it private to myself and the ones that I trust with the text files. Or pictures that I took with my friends during a night out or such thing.

      • My1 Nov 24, 2014 Link to comment

        well as long as you not use the app it's definitely better...

  • My1 Nov 24, 2014 Link to comment

    WHy do they even care. Google is from US and they have the patriot act, they could bring it to court and let the government decrypt it...

    I dont even doubt that the main key leaves the device, but I think that there's a second key for the government.

    but really, what about privacy? those guys are annoying. Banning Kinder Surprise but allowing guns...

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