United States senators have threatened Apple and Facebook with mandatory regulations if they don’t build backdoors into their encryption.
Apple and Facebook were both grilled on their encryption policies at a Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Reuters reported. In a rare bipartisan effort, senators from both sides of the aisle urged the tech companies to give law enforcement officials a way to see encrypted user data.
“You’re going to find a way to do this or we’re going to go do it for you,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham.
The ‘Going Dark’ Issue
The lawmakers cited examples such as child abuse and mass shootings as reasons why law enforcement would need access to encrypted data during investigations.
In the past, law enforcement agencies have run into problems when dealing with potential encrypted evidence. Those in the industry have dubbed it the “going dark” issue.
Authorities say that the inability to get into encrypted devices or platforms has snarled investigations. And earlier this year, White House officials were allegedly discussing banning end-to-end encryption altogether.
But tech firms and privacy advocates say that creating a weak spot in encryption would only open the door for hackers and other bad actors to abuse those vulnerabilities.
They also caution that government demand for data access is a slippery slope which could lead to easier surveillance of ordinary citizens.
Tech Firms and Encryption
Apple, for its part, has strongly resisted any request to build backdoors into its system. That famously peaked back in 2016 during a tense dustup between the Cupertino tech giant and the FBI.
The company even alluded to the slippery slope back in a 2018 letter to an Australian parliamentary committee, saying that government threats to get personal data will only “grow more serious and sophisticated over time.”
Apple does comply with warrant requests for user data, however.
Facebook, for its part, already encrypts its WhatsApp messaging platform but has plans to bring similar end-to-end encryption to Instagram and Facebook as part of a privacy-focused overhaul.
That potential move led U.S. Attorney General Barr and others to write a letter to Facebook, urging the company not to implement end-to-end encryption in its other messaging apps.
The Judiciary Hearing
As mentioned earlier, representatives from both Apple and Facebook were asked about their encryption policies at the senate meeting.
And, as you might expect, Reuters reported that each company’s privacy chief tried to throw the other company under the bus.
Facebook’s Jay Sullivan and Apple’s Erik Neuenschwander “traded barbs” with each other and suggested that lawmakers scrutinize the other more heavily, the publication notes.
Facebook, for its part, reiterated that it doesn’t make devices or operating systems and said it would be open to “on-device scanning” to identify illegal content.
Apple’s privacy chief rebutted, saying that it doesn’t have “forums for strangers to contact each other.” Neuenschwander also threw in a dig at Facebook’s privacy policies, saying that it doesn’t scan the “material of our users to build profiles of them.”