NY Bill Would Force OEMs To Decrypt Smartphones For Police Or Face $2,500 Per-Device Fine

Legislatures in New York have drafted a bill that, if passed, would require Apple and other smartphone makers to provide backdoors to encrypted handsets for law enforcement officials or otherwise eliminate encryption altogether. Failure to do so would result in a $2,500 fine per device, a sum that would quickly add up.

Apple and Google have been at the forefront of the encryption debate in favor of user privacy. New iPhone and most new Android devices come encrypted without any easy means of decrypting data without a key. Even if summoned by law enforcement to unlock a device, Apple and Google claim they have no way of doing so since encryption keys are stored locally and not on their servers, a method known as end-to-end encryption.


It's this 'Sorry-not-sorry' excuse the bill attempts to thwart.

"Any smartphone that is manufactured on or after January 1, 2016, and sold or leased in New York, shall be capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider," the bill states.

Law enforcement and other proponents of the bill point out that having access to data stored on devices like smartphones can be instrumental in convicting criminals of illegal activity. Responding to Apple CEO Tim Cook's appearance on 60 Minutes last month in which the Apple boss defended end-to-end encryption, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton took it a step further by saying that encrypted services without backdoors will be the ones that child pornographers and terrorists use.

"If we apply a different legal standard to companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, we can expect them to become the preferred messaging services of child pornographers, drug traffickers, and terrorists alike--which neither these companies nor law enforcement want," Cotton said.

On the flip side, privacy advocates other opponents of the bill not only say it would be a privacy violation, but also fear that a backdoor available to law enforcement is something that could be exploited by data thieves and the government itself.