New York State's anti-encryption bill would force phone makers to add a backdoor

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Smartphones sold inside New York might be less safe than the rest of the country, if a new encryption bill is passed in the state. The bill would force manufacturers or operating system providers to decrypt and unlock smartphones for law enforcement and other authorities, creating a backdoor to surpass the encryption.

Introduced earlier this year, the bill would penalize manufacturers $2,500 for every device that does not comply with the law, according to Onthewire. New York State Assembly members who created the bill claim the it is in the best interests of New York State residents, citing terrorists and criminals who use encryption to avoid law enforcement as ample reason for the bill to be passed.

“The fact is that, although the new software may enhance privacy for some users, it severely hampers law enforcement’s ability to aid victims,” notes on the bill say. “All of the evidence contained in smartphones and similar devices will be lost to law enforcement, so long as the criminals take the precaution of protecting their devices with passcodes. Of course they will do so. Simply stated, passcode-protected devices render lawful court orders meaningless and encourage criminals to act with impunity.”

The bill is currently in committee at the New York State Assembly, and the next step to enactment is a move to the floor calendar, after which the state assembly and senate will vote on the controversial bill. At this point, it’s unclear how much support exists for the proposal or if it will be passed.

After Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was conducting mass surveillance on U.S. and foreign citizens alike in 2013, many Americans took a pro-encryption stance. In response, Apple and Google both implemented encryption on iOS and Android, respectively, ensuring that nobody is able to read or listen in on private conversations. However, some members of the U.S. government and FBI are strongly against encryption, claiming that it impedes law enforcement from investigating suspects.

Apple has taken a very aggressive stance against backdoors and government surveillance, with Tim Cook speaking out against the Obama Administration’s lack of commitment to encryption and venting frustration at the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill.

It will be interesting to see if Apple continues to do business in New York if the bill is passed, since Apple would need to either create a backdoor for law enforcement or remove the encryption entirely from iPhones and iPads. We’ll keep you updated on news of the bill here.

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