The Trump administration is pushing hard for smartphone backdoors

The Trump administration is pushing hard for smartphone backdoors

The encryption that secures your phone doesn’t come with a backup key. That may make you nervous if you’re prone to forgetting your passcodes — but it makes many law-enforcement and national-security types even more anxious when they contemplate permanently losing access to valuable evidence.

They use the phrase “going dark” to describe the spread of hardware and software that can only be unlocked by their owners — even if a court orders the companies behind those products to allow police access.

Privacy advocates, however, see “strong crypto” — without any extra keys or back doors — as vital when both commercial and government attackers may want into your devices and the immense stores of data on them.

Meanwhile, companies like Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG, GOOGL) increasingly treat strong encryption as a standard feature. As this debate escalates — and as many observers think the Trump administration may try to move a bill mandating what’s sometimes called “exceptional access” — they continue to ship encrypted devices and apps that can’t be whisked out of existence by any such bill.

A new twist on the Apple-FBI fight

The encryption argument got its most public airing two years ago, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation went to court to compel Apple to write special software to disable the lockout system on an iPhone 5c used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

But a final ruling never came, because the FBI dropped the case after saying it had “successfully accessed” that iPhone’s data. Subsequent reports pointed to the bureau hiring the services of an Israeli mobile-security firm, Cellebrite, that exploited a vulnerability in Apple’s iOS operating system.

In March, however, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General issued a report suggesting the FBI hadn’t tried too hard to get into that iPhone.

That report found some FBI employees seemed more anxious to set a court precedent of requiring manufacturers to let in police than to get the San Bernardino shooter’s phone unlocked. It quotes the head of one FBI office voicing his disappointment that another had hired a contractor to hack the iPhone: “Why did you do that for?”

“What we saw was a breakdown of the FBI’s argument,” explained Robyn Greene, policy counsel and government affairs lead at New America’s Open Technology Institute. “You can hack into every version of an iPhone; why do you need to back-door it?”

The biggest secret in phone unlocking in years: GrayKey

Two weeks ago, Vice’s Motherboard tech-news site revealed that one iPhone-unlocking tool — a device offered by Atlanta-based GrayShift called GrayKey — was far more widely used than even the OIG report implied.

Details had surfacedabout this apparatus in earlier reports by</span><a href=”

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