The US government has been very vocal recently about how the increase in encryption on user devices is hampering their investigations. The reality is that according to a report from the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, law enforcement with court-ordered wiretaps encountered fewer encrypted devices in 2015 than in 2014.
In regards to encrypted devices, the reports states: “The number of state wiretaps in which encryption was encountered decreased from 22 in 2014 to seven in 2015. In all of these wiretaps, officials were unable to decipher the plain text of the messages. Six federal wiretaps were reported as being encrypted in 2015, of which four could not be decrypted.”
This is out of 2,745 state and 1,403 federal for a grand total of 4,148 wiretaps, an increase of 17 percent over 2014. So while surveillance increased, the amount of times law enforcement encountered encryption decreased.
Earlier this year the Department of Justice and FBI were locked in a court battle with Apple over an encrypted iPhone used by San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. The government eventually dropped the case after finding a third party to help it bypass the phone’s security.
But it started a national debate about personal devices and encryption. Tech companies want their customers to be secure while law enforcement want backdoors or keys to encrypted devices for investigations. But it looks like when it comes to wiretaps, encryption isn’t as big a problem as many would suspect.
Last year Google and Apple (and other companies) made some changes to the way encryption was handled. Instead of Google and Apple holding the keys to the encryption, they gave the keys to their customers. What this meant is that law enforcement agencies can no longer ask these companies to turn over user encrypted data.
If they want the data, they will have to convince those users to give it up themselves, something which the FBI was not too happy about. However for a while the government did not give up their quest to make it so that tech companies could be forced to turn over encrypted user data, but all of that has since changed.
According to reports, the Obama administration has finally backed down in their battle against the tech companies over encrypted data. This means that if you were worried that these tech companies would one day be forced to install back doors which are supposedly only for government access, you won’t have to worry about that anymore.
The argument made by the tech companies basically stated that by installing back doors, even if it was just for the “good guys”, could leave their products and services open to hacks. While this is no doubt a big victory, there are some who are skeptical that this is the end of that.
According to Peter G. Neumann, one of the nation’s leading computer scientists, “This looks promising, but there’s still going to be tremendous pressure from law enforcement. The NSA is capable of dealing with the cryptography for now, but law enforcement is going to have real difficulty with this. This is never a done deal.”