U.S. Senators threaten Apple with regulations over data encryption

Tim Cook
Tim Cook (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • U.S. Senators have threatened Apple and Facebook with data regulations at a committee hearing.
  • Both were told that regulations would be enforced if they did not make encrypted data available to law enforcement.
  • Both Apple and Facebook criticized each other's practices during the hearing.

U.S. Senators have threatened both Apple and Facebook with the prospect of regulations over data if they do not make encrypted data accessible to law enforcement.

As reported by Reuters, representatives of both companies appeared at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, December 10, There, Republican and Democratic Senators blasted both companies. According to the report:

At a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Democrats and Republicans presented a rare united front as they invoked child abuse and mass shooting cases in which encryption has blocked access to key evidence and stymied investigations."You're going to find a way to do this or we're going to go do it for you," said Senator Lindsey Graham. "We're not going to live in a world where a bunch of child abusers have a safe haven to practice their craft. Period. End of discussion."

The report notes how both Apple and Facebook have been on the end of tussles with governments over encryption. Recently Facebook has battled with several governments since announcing its plans to extend end-to-end encryption beyond WhatsApp to all of its messaging services. Meanwhile, Apple was of course at the center of a 2016 saga over calls to create specialized software, a backdoor, that would allow law enforcement to access the locked phone of San Bernardino shooting suspect Syed Farook.

The report notes that Apple and Facebook fired shots at each other over their respective practices in a bid to deflect the ire of Senators onto the other. Facebook said that it did not build devices or operating systems and that it was open to "on-device scanning" that would help trawl for illegal content. In response Apple's head of privacy Erik Neuenschwander said:

"We don't have forums for strangers to contact each other ... and our business doesn't have us scanning material of our users to build profiles of them"

It's unclear at this stage exactly what kind of regulations the committee may have been referring too. However given the track record of both Apple and Facebook in its stance on privacy and encryption (at least publicly), it isn't likely that either will relent on the matter. The argument as far as Apple is concerned, is that any kind of backdoor to iOS that would allow law enforcement access to encrypted information could be misused, leaked or stolen. If that were to happen it could never be undone and would undermine the security of iOS and the privacy of millions of users.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9