It's been no secret that most law enforcement, including the biggest US government agencies, would rather encryption didn't exist outside of its own use. Just this past week, we saw the Department of Justice defend its stance on scooping up user data en masse, and in September, we talked twice about the 'major heartburn' that companies like Apple and Google were causing law enforcement with their stance on encryption.
In both the latest version of Apple's iOS (8) and Google's Android (5), data encryption is turned on by default. As soon as both companies made that fact known, law enforcement immediately took action to coax both into changing their position. So far, that hasn't happened. For the end-user, encryption is a very good thing; it means that if your phone falls into the hands of someone else - including law enforcement - your personal information is largely safe.
Admittedly, it's hard to disagree that in some cases, law enforcement having access to the data on our phones could be a good thing - it could help them solve a crime quicker. But, that's a major trade-off that many are not willing to make. People don't like to be spied on, and rightfully so. While it goes without saying that some crimes are bound to happen or go unsolved because a phone is locked up tight, the overall impact would likely be incredibly low. As mentioned in a post linked-to above, the EFF has stated that very rarely do smartphones become a make-or-break part of a crime.
That doesn't matter to agencies like the US Department of Justice, though. At some point this past week, the agency's number 2 official had a blunt message for the likes of Apple: "A child would die, he said, because police wouldn’t be able to scour a suspect’s phone, according to people who attended the meeting."
Oy. It's hard to discredit that reality, but it'd be a major price to pay to simply let ourselves be exposed to the governments just because they ask. After all, it's not as though they've instilled trust in us... look no further than the myriad of realities that Edward Snowden exposed us to. Are we really supposed to trust the government all of a sudden? Or are we just supposed to put up with it, regardless of how much we don't like it?
With so much pressure being put on Apple, Google, and others, I hope that they all remain vigilant in their stance. In this particular case, they're actually working in favor of their customers - they're putting their customers on a higher level than the government's prying eyes, and that's important.