California lawmakers working to ban phone encryption by 2017

by: Derek ScottJanuary 22, 2016

smartphone privacy security 2 Shutterstock

California State Representative Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) is touting a bill that would force mobile devices to come with encryption off by default starting January 1, 2017. Any phone sold after that date would also have to be “capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider.”

As it stands, modern iOS and Android devices have full-disk encryption that prevents even Apple and Google from accessing them. Law enforcement agencies want to be able to more efficiently harvest evidence from confiscated devices rather than go about it the hard way via hacking or brute force. If the AB 1681 passes the Assembly and State Senate and is then signed into law, then any smartphone not meeting these requirements would result in the manufacturers being fined $2,500 per offending device.


The bill’s wording is suspiciously reminiscent of another bill currently pending in New York, but someone has run a find-and-replace on all the arguments supporting it that swaps every instance of “terrorists” for “sex traffickers.” Whereas the New York bill wants to give law enforcers full access to confiscated devices to prevent terrorist attacks, the California bill wants to do it to track down pimps.

In an interview with Ars Technica, Cooper claimed that 99% of Californians would never need to worry about having their phones searched by police officers, because the vast majority of phones are never implicated in law enforcement operations. This is basically a rephrasing of that “if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear” crockery. Cooper went on to say that “human trafficking trumps privacy, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.”

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In the bill’s presentation, Natalia Luna, the Sacramento County Asst. Chief Deputy District Attorney, described smartphones as tools of the trade of pimping. She says pimps actively use phones “to traffick, exploit, and sell our children.” Engadget accuses these lawmakers as using sex trafficking as a “bogeyman” to force smartphone manufacturers to do the work of the police for them. As one congressman advised law enforcement agencies seeking to overturn cell phone encryption in New York: “to me it’s very simple to draw a privacy balance when it comes to law enforcement and privacy: just follow the damn Constitution.”


“As for the protect the children argument, I am sympathetic, but there are always limits on law enforcement’s power to investigate crime,” said Andrew Crocker, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “No matter how terrible the crime, we don’t allow the police to disregard other important values like privacy and security, and this is a law that would make us all less secure. Meanwhile the police have access to lots of other tools to get at this evidence, from hacking or brute forcing the device to getting cloud backups to forcing the owner to unlock the phone. Moreover the sophisticated bad guys will resort to third-party tools to cover their tracks.”

What are your thoughts regarding this proposed bill? Is it a necessary bypass of privacy to ensure that justice is served, or is it an unconstitutional breach of 4th amendment rights? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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  • Tony G.

    As often is the case, the law abiding citizen loses some liberty and freedom due to the government’s refusal to enforce the law and stop allowing the illegals to enter our country.

    • i_say_uuhhh

      The Fact is that illegal immigration has been on a decline for the past 8 years or so, Obama has also deported more illegal immigrants under his presidency than George Bush. But hey don’t let facts get in your way.

      • Tony G.

        My post did not mention ANY president.

        • i_say_uuhhh

          No but you did say that the law is not stopping illegals to enter the country when in fact it is.

  • antiliberal

    Another lazy liberal CA (ex) cop with a bullshit “save the children” appeal as HIS backdoor to get buy-in for what will, in the end, be used for far more than just sex trafficking investigations. In other news, there’s a liberal assault on gun ownership brewing this year, too.

  • Murica smfh!

    • Me

      No. Just dumb politicians. Every country has them.

  • Remy Cajallena

    smartphones shouldn’t come with an OS. it should be the customer’s decision as to what OS to install…

  • Daniel Moraru

    “When personal liberties are broken, in the name of security, you don’t deserve neither of them”

    • Robertt1

      “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

      ― Benjamin Franklin

  • Rob

    OK, then all government officials need to have decrypted phones. That way the American public can see what they’re talking about…I mean, seeing as how they’re supposed to be public servants, anyway. Done.

  • JimAlaska

    I would personally like to see all phone manufacturers simply quit selling phones in California. It might be interesting to watch the population of an entire state suffering withdrawal. Wait! Can “feature” phones be encrypted? No? Send ’em all of these instead.

  • gg

    You may fine manufacturers but you can’t fine an open source project. Manufacturers will outsource their OS to avoid those fines.

    • Chris

      Law is law Sadly and even nerds have to follow laws

  • Pez Smith

    Please let this law be passed.
    I pray to the mighty morphin power rangers, let the people of Cali experience it at first hand.

  • riversdirect

    This is scary. California has so much market share that they could influence what phone makers offer on their phones. People deserve encrypted phones if they want them.

    • Chris

      Most don’t know or even give a Damn if their phone is encrypted

  • mrjayviper

    For android, only those that came with marshmallow have full disk encryption? thanks

  • Scr-U-gle

    Doesn’t affect android, it already has “open book” access to its seed funders and long-term partners, DARPA, NSA and the CIA.

  • C Lo

    This is why I love Android. The development community will find ways to encrypt phones even if they are not “allowed”. The government of CA is literally saying to its citizens what you do with your life is no longer private when it comes to government. Tyranny to the max.

    • Chris

      You love android based in something Thays not Na issue yet?

  • s2weden2000

    congratulations …

  • John Doe

    So let me get this straight, the phone has to come unencrypted, but can be encrypted by the user if needed? If so then what exactly is the point?

    • Kamalnath

      exactly. all the criminals will do encryption of their own.
      police can do their duty by catching some innocents and framing them with some insignificant evidence…

    • Choda Boy

      Any phone sold after that date would
      also have to be “capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its
      manufacturer or its operating system provider.”

      • John Doe

        How will that be possible, if the user installs an encryption application that is not known by the OEM?
        I feel that the Calif Gov has not thought this through completely, unless there is something that they are not telling us??
        And what if a user roots their phone and installs a different OS?
        More questions than answers .. Hmmm

  • Cyberstriker

    I’m starting to think Edward Snowden was right the government is taking away our rights to privacy.

  • Elena

    Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, enough said. That’s why I will also never use a fingerprint scanner to unlock my phone. While this is not big brother permanent full view scanners in one’s home, constantly watched by police, it is an attempt to make yet another step in that direction.

    • SamsaraGuru

      Ditto re the fingerprint scanner. This is what happens when you have people who decided to become lawyers, couldn’t succeed at ambulance chasing, so they became politicians – where success isn’t measured by accomplishment but by playing he game, handing out and getting political favors and trying to justify your existence.

  • jf-laferriere

    Classic fear mongering propaganda!

  • Mag

    door lock manufacturers aren’t required to keep a copy of every customers house key do they? no!! and it would be absurd if they did.the police just knock down the door and if they have a warrant then fine more power to them but no one has their house key on file in their local police office of course it would make it a lot easier if we did this is exactly the same the police want in my house/phone and if they have a warrant they can break in but its absurd to think that its the lock maker’s/phone manufactures responsibility to hand over my key/password its wrong and crazy police have been breaking down doors/encryption for years and its the way we the people agreed on when we wrote the declaration of Independence why change now