Still-unresolved battle over privacy between US law enforcement and Silicon Valley is growing: ANALYSISJuly 21, 2019
In December 2015, Syed Farook and his wife went on a terrorism killing spree in San Bernardino, California, that only ended after a blazing gun battle with law enforcement.
One of the key sources of evidence was the suspect’s Iphone. When the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) attempted to access the device, they were thwarted by its encryption software.
They turned to Apple and were rebuffed — with Apple citing the need to protect the privacy concerns of its customers. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) asked a federal court to force Apple to comply with the FBI request, but given the exigent nature of the fast-moving terror probe, the feds ultimately turned to a still unidentified third party outside of government to gain access to the phone’s contents, ending the legal showdown.
But it sparked an emotional nationwide debate around court-ordered law enforcement access to digital data and the technology companies’ right to protect consumers’ privacy — which continues, unresolved, today.
In 2018, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a report which concluded that in the previous year, U.S. law enforcement agencies made more than 130,000 requests for access to digital evidence from six of largest technologies companies in the world alone. The requests were sent to companies like Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, Verizon Communications media unit Oath and Google.
Telecom giants like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T also received more than 500,000 court-ordered requests to identify users and provide location data and communications content for criminal cases.
With the expansion of digital platforms, the report found that law enforcement requests for data access had “significantly increased over time.” In 2016, law enforcement sent roughly 110,000 requests; the year before that, companies only saw around 96,000.
In 1994, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) passes into law and mandated that all communications companies are required to assist law enforcement’s access to information when under a court order. Yet existing loopholes in the law have prompted some cell phone providers to argue they aren’t communication companies and are thus not required to assist law enforcement. These loopholes have created legal standoffs where tech companies are fighting against releasing information to law enforcement in court.
Microsoft has argued that data stored on a company server in another country exempts it from an obligation to cooperate with a U.S. law enforcement request for the data.
Last year, Apple updated its software to disable the Lightning port on the bottom of its iPhones one hour after a user locks the phone, preventing a common workaround that law enforcement had used to break into iPhones to access data in the course of criminal investigations, according to the Washington…