In Chapter 6 of 10 Don’ts, “Don’t Let the Snoops In,” we discuss ways that the average user can protect their data from government and corporate spies. Tech companies like Google and Apple have recently cooperated in that effort, adding encryption protocols to their devices. More importantly, these companies (particularly Apple) have made it clear that they do NOT hold the decryption keys to unlock their devices. So if a user refuses to decrypt his/her device for law enforcement, Apple cannot be compelled to do so — and indeed, would be unable to do so.
Federal agencies like the FBI and local law enforcement groups have argued that this makes it easy for criminals to hide data. Apple, and many security experts, have countered by saying it is impossible to insert a “back door” available only to law enforcement. Any weak link in the security chain — even if designed only for legitimate use — could potentially be exploited by thieves, unfriendly nation-states, and the everyday basement hacker.
The Obama Administration has now reached that same conclusion:
The Obama administration has backed down in its bitter dispute with Silicon Valley over the encryption of data on iPhones and other digital devices, concluding that it is not possible to give American law enforcement and intelligence agencies access to that information without also creating an opening that China, Russia, cybercriminals and terrorists could exploit.