Why are we so suspicious of law enforcement officials who are howling bloody murder about Apple and Google’s decision to encrypt smartphone traffic? Largely because they keep making totally boneheaded arguments. The latest such argument comes to us courtesy of Motherboard, which reports that Daniel Conley, the Suffolk County District Attorney in Massachusetts, has argued that widespread smartphone encryption will lead to an outbreak of perverts snapping “upskirt” photos of women who are riding public transportation.
“If the offender’s phone can’t be searched pursuant to a warrant, then the evidence won’t be recovered and this practice will become absolutely un-chargeable as a criminal offense,” Conley wrote.
Motherboard notes that if the pervert in question uploaded the picture to the cloud then a police warrant actually would give them access to their account and would let them see what pictures have been taken with their devices.
But that’s not the stupidest claim Conley makes. No, the stupidest claim Conley makes is that smartphone encryption might have made it difficult to catch the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing back in 2013.
“Were law enforcement blocked from obtaining [phone] evidence, or if other companies were allowed to make their own determinations as to what video or other evidence law enforcement was and was not permitted to see, the apprehension of those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings would have been very much in doubt,” he writes.
This is completely ridiculous.
The Tsarnaev brothers were spotted on camera placing bags near the site of the explosion. The original images that were released didn’t come from smartphones but from a department store’s video surveillance system. We have a hard time imagining the local department store putting up objections to police looking at its own video footage after a massive bombing was committed in its vicinity.
But let’s say that the department store’s video system didn’t spot the Tsarnaev brothers and police had to rely on videos that came from bystanders’ encrypted smartphones. Does anyone imagine the police would have trouble getting people to turn over their smartphone video recordings as part of a search for two killers on the loose?
At any rate, we’ll start respecting law enforcement officials’ arguments against smartphone encryption when their arguments actually respect our intelligence.