Latest posts by Alvin Bryan (see all)
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Police and federal agents have been using evidence taken from mobile phones and other devices for years. But recently they have come across more and more device encryption. For the first time, they have been unable to defeat encryption on some of those devices. They also report that it was more than two times more difficult than the year before.
Post Snowden Device Encryption
The authorities have spent time and money trying to break encryption in past years. But since the Snowden revelations, device encryption has become harder to crack. People have become more aware of their need for strong device encryption. And providers have worked harder to give them better device encryption software. This has protected them from wiretapping, among other dangers.
The practice of wiretapping phones did not increase much from 2012 to 2013. Federal courts ordered 9% more wiretaps and state judges ordered 3% more. FISC requests were not included in the report. In 2013, federal authorities were not able to break device encryption on 9 out of the 41 devices that used encryption. In 2012, they were stumped by 4 out of 15 of the encryption on the tapped devices. This is the first time ever that they have been thwarted by device encryption. In the years before 2013, device encryption was successfully cracked 100% of the time.
Stumping the authorities 20% of the time does not look like a great victory. But it is a good step forward from being completely powerless in the face of government phone hacking. And it is encouraging to see that the trend is moving in favor of device encryption for data security. We have Snowden to thank for this push for better and more widespread device encryption. NSA wiretaps have been deemed legal by the White House, but warrantless phone searches have been banned by the Court.
Supreme Court Bans Warrantless Searches
The Supreme Court finally reached a decision last month regarding warrantless searches. They have debated for years about the legality of searching mobile phones and other devices. Finally, they decided that searching a phone or tablet is not the same as searching a suspect’s pockets. That is, without a warrant.
Our mobile phones are like small computers that contain a lot of sensitive private data. This is why we use device encryption and other tools like VPNs and antivirus software. The Court recognized this and ordered that a warrant must first be obtained before searching a device, just like before they can search a person’s home. With device encryption and warrants, innocent people can feel much safer from the prying eyes of police.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation are pleased by these developments. They are not the ultimate victories, but set a standard that says more privacy is on the horizon. It is an important step that means that the Court is realizing that the digital age has changed how we perceive and should deal with privacy.