California Follows Suit, Proposes Anti-Encryption Smartphone Bill

by Matt Klassen on January 22, 2016

criminal-encryptionWhether it’s the future of national security or simply a colossal short-sighted mistake, the idea that governments should attempt to legislate smartphone encryption standards is sweeping the nation, as California has jumped on board with its own proposed bill that would ensure that any smartphone sold in the state would be “capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider.”

What makes this latest round of proposed legislation so interesting, though, is that California stands as the seat of technological progress; the home of Silicon Valley and the likes of Google and Apple. Like its New York counterpart, the proposed bill would levy a fine of $2500 for each infraction, that is, for each fully encrypted, inaccessible smartphone sold in the state on or after January 1st, 2017.

However, the irony is this ongoing saga is that Apple, Google, and Blackberry have (or are currently working towards) created encryption standards that remove the manufacturer and its OS provider completely from the data transfer process, meaning that by current encryption standards, tech companies couldn’t give governments or law enforcement agencies access to specific mobile data even if they wanted to, which in turn means, I suppose, that soon ensuring our privacy in this sort of way may become very illegal.

As mentioned, the California bill goes beyond simply mirroring the sentiments in the one we saw proposed in New York last week, it echoes them practically word-for-word. The bill comes as governments are attempting to wrest some sort of control back from tech companies, who have implemented encryption standards that are virtually impenetrable. The concern is that such encryption will create the havens necessary for terrorists and other such dark forces to communicate outside of the purview of law enforcement, ultimately impacting national security.

But the problem is that Apple, and to a lesser extent Google, has already implemented encryption protocols that make such information requests impossible, because Apple, like Blackberry before it, simply does not have the keys necessary to break the encryption. By removing itself from the process, Apple has removed itself from the negative press associated with government information requests. For its part, Google has attempted to implement something similar, but it still seems that when needed, the company is able to acquiesce to such requests.

While this fight may now be brewing on the tech world’s home soil, consider New York and California to be simply the frontrunners in this ongoing debate, one that such unbreakable encryption has already fomented around the world, and one that contributed significantly to the fall of the once mighty mobile titan Blackberry. Now that the U.S. has joined the fight against encryption, what will this mean for the mobile industry as a whole, and for the likes of Google and Apple, who have now established their respective empires on the backs of promises of unbreakable security?

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