Civil Liberties and Technology: Debating Smartphone Encryption

Eleni Kyriakides
November 19, 2014

By: Eleni Kyriakides

The following post discusses recent the debate pertaining to privacy of information on smart devices. 

In recent months, a debate has been brewing over the default encryption of smartphones. It’s worth checking out the points made by those on both sides of this debate if you haven’t yet. Appealing to increased public concern over privacy, Apple devices equipped with the new iOS 8 systems and Google’s new Android Lollipop 5.0 system feature default encryption. What does encryption mean for user privacy? As reported by Ars Technica, Apple explained:

“On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode…Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data. So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.” (

You can check out and for the companies’ descriptions of their systems and privacy features.

Without getting too deep into the nitty gritty, law enforcement is concerned that this feature may render data that is crucial to time sensitive investigations inaccessible to law enforcement and that those committing crimes will exploit the well-intended privacy features. On the other hand, Julia Angwin of ProPublica contended in a PBS News Hour interview that while information stored on your phone may be inaccessible without a password:

“…almost every bit of data I have on my phone is also replicated somewhere else. For instance, my emails might be stored on Google servers, or my photos might be backed up on iCloud. So all of that data, if it’s somewhere else, most likely is obtainable by the FBI.”(

In a conversation at the Brookings Institute, FBI Director James Comey articulated his concerns with these features. To hear the entire fascinating conversation – “Going Dark: Are Technology, Privacy, and Public Safety on a Collision Course?” – go to: