Police Officials: Google and Apple Should Censor Encryption Apps in Their Stores

Two local police officials suggest a novel solution to prevent encryption apps for becoming too popular.

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Apr 19 2016, 5:01pm

Image: Bloomua/Shutterstock

Law enforcement officials, led by the FBI, have been wringing their hands about how strong encryption is making investigating and solving crimes tougher for almost two years now. So far, though, they haven't really proposed any concrete, workable, solution to change the status quo.

Now, two cops have come up with a novel idea: make Google and Apple police what encryption apps are allowed in their app stores.

"Certain apps are not available on all devices. So if the companies that are outside the United States can't comply with same rules and regulations of the ones that are in the United States, then they shouldn't be available on the app stores," Thomas Galati, the chief of intelligence at the New York Police Department, said during a congressional hearing on Tuesday. "For example, you can't get every app on a BlackBerry."

Galati was answering a question from Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA), who asked how it's possible for the US government to impose regulations on encryption when many apps that provide secure, end-to-end encrypted communications and technologies are actually located outside the United States, as a recent survey showed.

"If the companies that are outside the United States can't comply with same rules and regulations of the ones that are in the United States, then they shouldn't be available on the app stores."

"Right now Google and Apple act as the gatekeepers for most of those encrypted apps, meaning if the app is not available on the App Store for an iOS device, if the app is not available on Google Play for an Android device, a customer of the United States cannot install it," Charles Cohen, the commander of the office of intelligence and investigative technologies for the Indiana

State Police, said, responding to the congressman's question.

Privacy and tech experts were quick to react to the two law enforcement official's suggestion.

"This isn't just turning Apple into censorship police, it's wrecking Android's entire open model," Jake Laperruque, a fellow at the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, said on Twitter.

For Ross Schulman, the senior policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute who previously at Google, "the argument that the app stores should regulate access to encryption is off the charts crazypants."

Cohen and Galati's suggestion might not really solve the problem. If criminals can't get encryption apps on iPhones, they'll jailbreak them to get app stores that Apple can't control. On Android, it's already possible, and easy, to download and install apps that are not in the Google Play store. And if all else fails, criminals and terrorists will likely use another phone that doesn't depend on Google or Apple for apps. In other words, criminals who really want encryption will still get it, while regular citizens, who don't want to bother or don't know how, will not.

Apple and Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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