FBI director James Comey has voiced his concerns on the steps internet search giant Google and consumer tech titan Apple are making to strengthen privacy protection on mobile devices.
Comey’s comments come in the aftermath of Apple announcing it will not be possible for encrypted iPhone smartphones and iPad tablet computers to be unlocked for law enforcement in future because the devices no longer allow user passcodes to be bypassed.
“I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I am also a believer that no one in this country is beyond the law,” Comey told journalists, as reported by The Huffington Post.
“What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law.
“Google is marketing their Android the same way: Buy our phone and law enforcement, even with legal process, can never get access to it.”
Apple and Google’s steps are likely motivated by public concerns following last year’s leak of classified National Security Agency documents about US government access to private user data, as well as the recent hacking of Hollywood stars’ iCloud accounts.
“I get that the post-(NSA whistleblower Edward) Snowden world has started an understandable pendulum swing,” said Comey. “What I’m worried about is, this is an indication to us as a country and as a people that, boy, maybe that pendulum swung too far.”
Last week, Google revealed it was following Apple's lead by encrypting data on its own Android phones by default. The announcement came on the back of a statement from Apple CEO Tim Cook that addressed customers’ concerns relating to privacy.
“I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services,” said Cook. “We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”
Specifically addressing government information requests, Apple has published the following on its website: “On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode. Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data. So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.”