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CA Senator Wants to Break Phone Encryption

SACRAMENTO (CN) - To force Silicon Valley cellphone companies to give up their customers' personal data, a California lawmaker Wednesday proposed a bill that would bar manufacturers from selling smartphones with unbreakable encryption software.

Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, would require companies such as Apple and Google to sell smartphones that could be unlocked to help law enforcement agencies in human trafficking investigations.

Many smartphones are sold with full-disk encryption software that can be unlocked only with the user's personal password or information.

Apple claims it cannot access customers' data on phones running iOS 7 or newer systems and is fighting federal prosecutors in New York who want to unlock a suspected drug dealer's iPhone.

Cooper says Assembly Bill 1681 would allow law enforcement, after establishing probable cause and obtaining a warrant, to get information on a human trafficking suspect's smartphone.

"Human traffickers are using encrypted cellphones to run and conceal their criminal activities," Cooper said in a statement. "Full-disk encrypted operating systems provide criminals an invaluable tool to prey on women, children and threaten our freedoms while making the legal process of judicial court orders useless."

Cooper, a former Sacramento County sheriff, says regulating smartphone manufacturers would protect communities and preserve the Fourth Amendment. Under AB 1681, manufacturers or retailers caught selling smartphones with default full-disk encryption software would face fines.

Cooper's encryption bill is similar to a proposal revived last week by New York Assemblyman Matthew Titone, D-Staten Island. Under his bill, manufacturers would be banned from selling smartphones in New York if they were not "capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system," and would face a $2,500 for every encrypted device sold.

The bills are supported by law enforcement agencies and district attorneys, and probably the federal government. The FBI and CIA have asked Silicon Valley companies several times to provide access to private smartphones to dig up information for national security reasons.

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert was present when Cooper introduced the legislation Wednesday, and supported it.

"If smartphones are beyond the reach of law enforcement, crimes will go unsolved, criminals will not be held accountable, victims will not receive justice and our ability to protect our children and community will be significantly compromised," Schubert said.

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center statistics , more than 711 cases of human trafficking were reported in California in 2015, and more than 3,800 since 2007. Experts say human trafficking brings in more than $32 billion globally per year and particularly targets young girls and women.

Opponents of such laws say that forcing manufacturers to produce phones that can be decrypted would expose consumers to hackers and other privacy problems.

The Center for Democracy and Technology opposes the bill . It told tech news website Ars Technica that "encryption proposals that include backdoors are fundamentally insecure and would create vulnerabilities that unauthorized actors could exploit."

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