- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Encrypted communication platforms, including smartphones sold by Apple and Google, are posing a “critical threat” to law enforcement’s ability to conduct criminal investigations, police officials claim in a new report.

In the midst of a reawakening with regards to an encryption debate that had assuaged in the United States until the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and National District Attorneys Association — groups representing members of law enforcement — are advocating for a legislative solution to their investigative woes.

“The proliferation of sophisticated encryption technology and other technological barriers have increasingly hindered law enforcement’s ability to lawfully access criminal and terrorist related communications,” they allege in a 45-page report put out on Tuesday.

Congress, the groups plead, should therefore consider amending existing legislation in a manner that would make tech companies obligated to assist authorities otherwise ending up in the dark when dealing with encrypted communications. The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act are namely in their sights.

The report, “A Law Enforcement Perspective on the Challenges of Gathering Electronic Evidence,” calls for “immediate action” from public officials and industry leaders in hopes of hammering out a solution that would enable individuals to communicate securely, but not necessarily free from law enforcement surveillance.

“Historically, the impact that advances in technology had on law enforcement capabilities was moderated by industry’s willingness and ability to comply with a law enforcement legal demand for access to evidence on a device or in a network,” reads an excerpt.

“Recently, however, new technologies and strategies developed to advance network security are preventing law enforcement and justice agencies from executing lawful court orders to investigate criminal or terrorist incidents or to secure electronic evidence.”

Police officials had been escalating a fight since last year when Apple and Google announced they’d enable strong encryption by default for owners of iPhone and Android handsets, affecting the vast majority of the country’s mobile phones. In Manhattan, District Attorney Cyrus Vance said authorities have hit a dead end while trying to execute 111 separate search warrants between September 2014 and October 2015 because devices sought by investigators were running Apple’s iOS 8 operating system and, ergo, were uncrackable. Despite those concerns being echoed by the Justice Department, FBI Director James B. Comey said last month that the Obama administration will not be seeking legislation to ease encryption concerns.

IACP President Richard Beary wrote in the new report that encryption needn’t be outlawed, but urges: “Law enforcement simply needs to be able to lawfully access information that has been duly authorized by a court in the limited circumstances prescribed in specific court orders — information of potentially significant consequence for investigations of serious crime and terrorism.”

Similar pushes in the U.S. and abroad have surfaced after terrorists managed to carry out coordinated attacks in the French capital earlier this month without appearing on the radar of authorities ahead of time. Nevertheless, investigators have so far failed to release any evidence suggesting suspects had, in fact, plotted with encryption.

David Medine, the chairman of President Obama’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, said in an op-ed on Monday: “Simply put, the Paris tragedy should not be used as the basis for rapidly expanding mass surveillance programs without due consideration and public debate, where possible, about the important balance between national security concerns and privacy and civil liberties.”

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