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NYT: Justice Department renews effort for legal mandate to unlock phones

Posted at 5:37 PM, Mar 25, 2018

Federal investigators are pushing for measures that would require tech companies to grant them access to encrypted data in criminal cases, according to a New York Times report.

The FBI and Justice Department have reportedly enlisted the help of security experts, arguing they could find ways to technically and legally bypass a device's safety features without compromising its security.

For years, the federal government and the tech industry have sparred over encryption in criminal cases.

Federal agencies have said they are facing a "going dark" problem -- "eroding investigators' ability to carry out wiretap orders and search warrants," writes the Times -- because they cannot bypass devices' security measures. Investigators have argued that modern encryption technologies, as well as the rise of privacy and cyber security concerns, have hampered or completed undermined some criminal investigations.

Communication service providers and other tech companies fear government-mandated access would would weaken necessary consumer protections.

That issue came to a head in 2015 following the San Bernardino terror attack. Looking for evidence in the shooter's phone, the FBI demanded that Apple help unlock it. Apple CEO Tim Cook refused to comply, arguing the order would create a backdoor into their devices.