FBI Director Concerned About Smartphones The Police Can’t Search

James-Comey-Official-Portrait-High-ResIn recent weeks, both Apple and Google have announced improved privacy measures that make it more difficult for police to search suspects’ smartphones, even with a warrant. This isn’t sitting well with FBI Director James Comey.

“What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law,” Comey said on Thursday.

The U.S. Supreme Court clarified this summer that a search warrant is required for police to search a suspect’s phone. If a suspect refused to turn over the password to their phone, authorities could try to electronically pry those devices open with help from the companies, like Apple and Google, that make the operating systems.

But Apple announced earlier this month that the only way to access personal data on phones using iOS 8 would be with the users’ passcode.

“Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data,” wrote the company. “So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.”

Google then announced that the upcoming version of its Android operating system would have similar protections against using third parties to get around passcode locks.

“There will come a day when it will matter a great deal to the lives of people… that we will be able to gain access” to the info on smartphones, explained Comey, who says he wants to speak with Apple and Google “before that day comes.”

The FBI Director says America may have reached the point where we are “doing things that no longer make sense, that are no longer consistent with our commitment that we are a country of law where no one is beyond the law.”

Of course, we’d argue that these privacy updates are no different than having a personal safe to which only you know the combination.

There are still numerous ways for police to get information related to a suspect’s smartphone.

Google, Apple, app companies, and wireless providers can still be compelled to hand over data on calls, texts, e-mails, and other messages. The additional privacy protections only serve to keep the data stored solely on your phone hidden behind the passcode.

And, as Ars Technica points out, while Apple and Google may be removing a backdoor access to your devices, information stored in the cloud is likely still accessible to these companies, who would have little option but to turn over the data requested by authorities.

Finally, the privacy enhancements do nothing to stop the secretive collection of smartphone data by governmental agencies, as that involves intercepting communication between users over wireless and wired broadband networks.

“The outrage is directed at warrantless mass surveillance, and this is a very different context,” explains George Washington University professor and former Justice Department computer crimes lawyer to the Washington Post. “It’s searching a device with a warrant.”

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