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Can Your Cell Phone Manufacturer Spill Your Secrets?

May 23, 2016 | Posted In Internet Law

Cell phone privacy is a hot-button issue right now, especially in the wake of the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino earlier this year. A US Magistrate Judge in California recently issued a ruling that Apple could be required to create special software that would help law enforcement officials access data and information on the encrypted iPhone 5S that belonged to Syed Farook, one of the alleged shooters in the attack.

However, the ruling in California is in direct conflict with a prior ruling issued by a US Magistrate Judge in Brooklyn, New York. In the NY case, the judge ruled that he could not order Apple to bypass the security features on an iPhone that was seized as part of a drug bust. Two judges across the country have reached two different conclusions with respect to cell phone privacy and security, and these differing judgments demonstrate just how hard it is to keep up with the changes in technology and what people can and can’t do with their devices.

A Closer Look at Cell Phone Privacy Concerns

The issue at hand seems to be the level of security employed by the two cell phones in question. In the case of the drug investigation, the iPhone used by the defendant, an alleged methamphetamine dealer, had less security encryption than the iPhones on the market today.

Syed Farook’s iPhone uses the iOS8 software, and, according to Apple, the encryption levels on this platform are so secure that even the company itself can’t access the data on Farook’s iPhone or on the phones of other users. The software has a self-destruct feature, in which a password-protected phone will erase the device’s memory if too many incorrect guesses at the password are made.

With the increased levels of security being used in their phones, Apple’s refusal to create a software that will help law enforcement officials crack secure iPhones is more about setting a precedent — or refusing to do so — that could cause potential customers to question the security of their phones. Currently, Apple has refused to cooperate in open criminal investigations in four states, each of which involves a user’s iPhone and potential criminal evidence that could be housed on the device.

Apple isn’t the only company whose devices are protected with such sophisticated software. Law enforcement agencies have noted similar issues with devices that use Google’s Android operating system. Other technology companies like Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft, have sided with Apple in the debate, stating that the security measures used on their devices are there for a reason and the company should not be able to get past those measures.

As in most technology-based cases, security and privacy are at odds with the technological advances that continue to be made every day. As we increase our use and reliance on internet-connected devices like phones, tablets and laptops, the law struggles to keep up. Protecting information that belongs to you is only going to get harder as technology advances, and it’s important to understand what legal rulings have been made that could impact you as a user.

For more information, contact the New Jersey internet law attorneys at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, today.

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