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Apple ask Obama to keep private phone data from government

Apple is one of a team of big tech companies urging President Obama to block proposals which would allow the government to access private, encrypted phone data.

According to the Washington Post, more than 140 “tech companies, prominent technologists and civil society groups” signed a letter asking Obama (now on Twitter as @POTUS) to reject government proposals calling for access to be allowed access to private data.

The open letter to the White House says that “strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security” and “protects billions of people every day”.

Officials from the FBI and Justice Department say that although they “support the use of encryption”, they want to find a way for “officials to get the lawful access they need”. Apple, Google and all other parties who signed the document see this stance as inherently flawed.

Experts in the field say there is no way to allow access without compromising the encryption technology. Building in backdoor access to this kind of data essentially amounts to “a vulnerability that can be exploited by hackers and foreign governments” and would undermine the purpose of using encryption in the first place.

Aside from the technical concerns, many are also worried about the proposals purely from a privacy standpoint – frowning upon potential intrusion into the private lives of the public. Apple use end-to-end encryption for many types of personal data, including iMessages.

As it stands Apple wouldn’t be legally required to to hand over encrypted data even if presented with a court order – in fact, last year Tim Cook said that the data is completely unavailable to Apple, even if it wanted to access something.

So what does this mean for the US? Probably nothing – it looks as though there are enough big players on the side of customer privacy to ensure the law remains as it is. That said, if any of these proposals do end up being pushed through it could be very big news indeed.