U.S. law enforcement officials are urging Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Google Inc. (GOOG) to give authorities access to smartphone data that the companies have decided to block, and are weighing whether to appeal to executives or seek congressional legislation.
The new privacy features, announced two weeks ago by the California-based companies, will stymie investigations into crimes ranging from drug dealing to terrorism, law enforcement officials said.
“This is a very bad idea,” said Cathy Lanier, chief of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, in an interview. Smartphone communication is “going to be the preferred method of the pedophile and the criminal. We are going to lose a lot of investigative opportunities.”
The dispute is the latest flare-up that pits the federal government against the nation’s leading technology companies since National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed last year the extent of U.S. snooping on phone and Internet communications — and how companies cooperated.
U.S. Justice Department and FBI officials are trying to understand how the new Apple and Google Android systems work and how the companies could change the encryption to make it accessible when court ordered. Their requests to the companies may include letters, personal appeals or congressional legislation, said a federal law official who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.