New York anti-encryption bill would force manufacturers into adding a 'backdoor' to every smartphone

Passcode-protected iPhones can currently only be unlocked by their owners - a proposed New York law wants to change that

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The Independent Culture

Lawmakers in New York are currently debating a bill that would force smartphone manufacturers to create encryption 'backdoors' in their devices. 

This would make it possible for law enforcement to get into locked phones and access the user's private information.

The bill, introduced by New York Assemblyman Matthew Titone in June 2015, specifies that every phone sold or leased in the state of New York must be able to be decrypted and unlocked by the manufacturer.

The proposed law would also make phone manufacturers pay a fine of $2,500 (£1,736) for every phone they sell that cannot be unlocked.

This would result in fines reaching into the tens of millions for companies like Apple, whose devices are designed to have no backdoor, and are only unlockable by their owner.

This was recently proven in a New York court case, in which the US Justice Department requested that Apple be forced to unlock an iPhone that was seized from a suspect in an investigation.

In a statement to the court, Apple's lawyers refused, saying unlocking the phone would threaten the trust between the company and its customers.

But even if they wanted to unlock the phone, they said it would be "impossible," since all passcode-protected iPhones running iOS8 or higher can only be unlocked by the owner - there are no 'backdoors' in Apple devices which would allow police, Apple themselves, or anyone else to break in.

This fact has been a serious source of tension between the tech world and law enforcement - companies like Apple have repeatedly expressed their commitment to encryption, while in a digital age, police are increasingly looking to suspects' smartphones for vital criminal evidence.

This is explained in a New York Assembly memo that supports the bill, which says: "Although the new software may enhance privacy for some users, it severely hampers law enforcement's ability to aid victims."

"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 memo ends by saying the state of New York should "lead the nation in protecting its citizens," by stopping the "misguided and dangerous attempts by digital device manufacturers to turn digital devices into virtual safes that, being beyond the reach of law enforcement, are havens for criminals."

The memo added that the warrant system would ensure the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

As OnTheWire reports, the bill is still in the committee stage, one of the early stages in the legislation process.

For it to become law, it still needs to make its way through debates and amendments, before finally facing the judgement of the state governor.