The New York Times reports today that law enforcement officials are becoming frustrated that they are apparently losing ground in the PR battle over data privacy with Apple and other tech firms.
Some Justice and F.B.I. officials have been frustrated that the White House has not moved more quickly or been more outspoken in the public relations fight that the tech companies appear to be winning, the law enforcement officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private conversations.
Over the summer, the Department of Justice, engaged in a drugs and guns investigation, obtained a court order to obtain iMessages sent between suspects. Apple responded that it could not comply with the order, due to the fact that end-to-end encryption is used in iMessage, and Apple has no way to decrypt the messages.
There has been long-standing tension between law enforcement and the Cupertino based Apple over the rigid encryption the company uses on its devices. Apple stands behind its belief that a customer’s right to privacy outweighs the needs of law enforcement agencies to intercept such communications while involved in an investigation.
The government for its part, has become increasingly vocal in its objections to Apple’s stance, becoming ever more strident in comments to the press, even going as far as claiming someday Apple’s stance would lead to the death of a child. (Oddly enough, the popular “It’s for the children!” government stance doesn’t seem to be working in this case.)
The conflicts between law enforcement and Apple and other companies over personal privacy rages in the wake of Edward J. Snowden’s revelations of overly invasive electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency, as tech firms have scrambled to demonstrate to their customers that their data and communications is safe from government snooping.
While Apple wouldn’t comment to NYT for their article, company officials have made public statements saying the backdoor access the government requires could be used by hackers to access their customer’s private data.
“There’s another attack on our civil liberties that we see heating up every day — it’s the battle over encryption,” Timothy D. Cook, the company’s chief executive, told a conference on electronic privacy this year. “We think this is incredibly dangerous.”
Echoing the arguments of industry experts, he added, “If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too.” If criminals or countries “know there’s a key hidden somewhere, they won’t stop until they find it,” he concluded.
While a government-led court case against Apple and other tech firms is still on the table, officials acknowledge a legal battle might make it more difficult for companies to compromise on the issue, adding that Apple and other companies have privately expressed a willingness to negotiate.