The Cop That Blasted Apple's New Encryption Got His Facts Backwards

On Tuesday morning, The Washington Post published an opinion piece by Ronald T. Hosko, a former assistant director at the FBI, about how Apple's new encryption techniques would've lead to the death of a victim in a case he oversaw. Turns out he was totally wrong. The newspaper just issued a correction.

The paragraph in question is the same one we called out in our coverage of the issue earlier. However, that paragraph has now been removed and replaced with a different one. The correction reads:

Editors note: This story incorrectly stated that Apple and Google's new encryption rules would have hindered law enforcement's ability to rescue the kidnap victim in Wake Forest, N.C. This is not the case. The piece has been corrected.

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That's a pretty big error considering the entire premise of the column was based on how the new encryption techniques would have led to the victim being killed. Again, the original paragraph which has now been removed reads:

It also means law enforcement officials won't be able to look at the range of data stored on the device, even with a court-approved warrant. Had this technology been used by the conspirators in our case, our victim would be dead. The perpetrators would likely be freely plotting their next revenge attack.

The new, watered down paragraph reads:

That kind information can help law enforcement officials solve big cases quickly. For example, criminals sometimes avoid phone interception by communicating plans via Snapchat or video. Their phones contain contacts, texts, and geo-tagged data that can help police track down accomplices. These new rules will make it impossible for us to access that information. They will create needless delays that could cost victims their lives.*

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Well, that hardly sounds definite. A more definitive thing to say is that Apple's new encryption methods make it easier for iPhone users to protect their own privacy. Which is a good thing.

Cops Have No Right to Be Angry About the iPhone's New Encryption

Security professionals and joe-schmoes alike cheered Apple's recent announcement that it would no longer be able to turn iPhone data over to cops. Finally, a guarantee that authorities couldn't snoop around your text messages! But you know who didn't cheer? Cops, of course.

Ronald T. Hosko, former Assistant Director of the FBI Criminal Investigative Division, published an opinion piece in The Washington Post today that said as much. Chances are other law enforcement officers and agencies are upset about the new security measures, too. They just didn't write a piece about it for one of America's largest newspapers.

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Specifically, Hosko bemoaned the fact that a seized cell phone helped save a man's life earlier this year. As the former FBI agent put it, Apple's announcement last week—and the similar Android announcement that followed it—means that your photos and emails are safer from prying eyes. BUT:

It also means law enforcement officials won't be able to look at the range of data stored on the device, even with a court-approved warrant. Had this technology been used by the conspirators in our case, our victim would be dead. The perpetrators would likely be freely plotting their next revenge attack.

There are a couple glaring problems with this reasoning. For one, as a security researcher proved earlier this week, it's not impossible for police to look at this data. It's just more difficult.

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The bigger issue at hand is the assumption that better law enforcement should come at the expense of civil liberties. Sure, cops could probably solve all kinds of crimes if they had more access to citizens' private data! Maybe we should install police-operated cameras on every street corner, so the police can watch us all the time. (That's already happening, by the way.) Even better, let's just turn every building into a Panopticon and employ government-run robots to listen in on every conversation. (That's also already happening.) Who cares if it's a little dystopian?

American citizens care. American citizens were excited about the improved security measures, because they've spent the last year being told about the dozens of different ways that their own government spies on them. American citizens deserve privacy as much as they deserve security.

One more thing: American citizens also don't really trust cops, and that isn't helped by the fact that cops have been doing some pretty shady things lately. One only needs to look as far as Ferguson, Missouri to comprehend this truth—and it is a tragic truth.

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Criminals are going to commit crime. That's another tragic truth. And cops spent centuries solving crimes without cell phone data. I, for one, have faith that they can also figure out how to do that in this new modern era of improved privacy. [WaPo]

Image via AP