Jim Cooper, a member of the California Assembly, has proposed bill AB 1681. The bill is designed to outlaw the sale of encrypted smartphones beginning on January 1, 2017. Any retailer who sells an encrypted phone to a consumer after that date would be subject to a $2,500 fine for every violation of the act.
This move to end unbreakable encryption on cell phones comes as a joint effort between law enforcement, politicians and victims of crimes. It seems that even when law enforcement gets a court order allowing them access to a suspect’s smartphone, they usually can’t get around the encryption software. This holds true for the manufacturers of the phone and the operating system. Executives from those manufacturers say that they have no means of successfully getting around typical smartphone safeguards.
Proponents of the bill are particularly concerned with stopping human trafficking. They argue that encrypted smartphones are used to carry out these crimes, yet police cannot use them for evidence because of encryption programs. Their hope is that pimps and other participants in human trafficking networks can be more easily caught and prosecuted when smartphone evidence is readily available.
Critics say that completely doing away with encryption is a mistake, not to mention a violation of fourth amendment rights. Encryption is what makes people feel secure when it comes to accessing or working with financial and other sensitive information on their cell phone. Without encryption, consumers would be more vulnerable to several varieties of identity theft and other violations.
Critics also note that selling fully unencrypted or easily decrypted phones is not necessarily a viable solution, especially since several encryption apps are readily available. It would not be difficult for a person to buy an unencrypted phone and then install encryption software that law enforcement and smartphone manufacturers may not be able to break, leaving police in the same predicament they occupy today.
Much debate is likely to ensue before the bill is voted on. Blanket solutions sometimes introduce more issues than they resolve, which may be the case with making encrypted smartphones illegal in California.