Smartphone encryption will deter criminals more than it would impede the police

In the debate over default encryption of smartphones, top law enforcement officials have been vocal in their opposition. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies argue that encryption obstructs investigations and hampers efforts to track criminals and solve crimes. Other argue that strong, default encryption could actually deter crimes, because protecting a smartphone with a password is just another obstruction to criminals, and default encryption would be a deterrent to crime in the industry by saving sensitive information even in the event of a theft.

In the debate over default encryption of smartphones, top law enforcement officials have been vocal in their opposition.

Encryption is essentially “the process of converting data to an unrecognizable or ‘encrypted’ from,” according to techterms.com. It is a process that keeps information from being seen by unauthorized viewers. It works by scrambling the data into an unrecognizable form using certain algorithms that cannot be unscrambled without the correct password or key. What this allows is a more secure way to transfer or keep sensitive information on digital devices or through wireless networks, and if an unauthorized user attempted to breach an encrypted file, all they would see would be nonsense.

Law enforcement opposition to encryption has become increasingly more pronounced since Apple and Google have decided to turn on encryption in devices running their software. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies argue that encryption obstructs investigations and hampers efforts to track criminals and solve crimes.

Kevin Bankston argues in Slate that strong, default encryption could actually deter crimes.

Crimes involving smartphones are rampant. Considering the ease with which criminals can steal, wipe clean, and resell them, it is no wonder that the underground market for smartphones is thriving — made only easier by the fact that just one third of smartphone users install a password on their devices.

According to an estimate by Consumer Reports, just over three million people were victims of smartphone theft in 2013 — a number that almost doubled in one year. Even going by the more conservative estimates of the FCC, reports of theft involving a smartphone device are still above one million annually, though these only count records by law enforcement of stolen phones.

Protecting a smartphone with a password is just another obstruction to criminals, and default encryption would be a deterrent to crime in the industry by saving sensitive information even in the event of a theft.

One step taken by the smartphone industry to make stealing smartphones even less appealing is the “kill switch” — a software that allows the owner to “brick,” or remotely disable, the phone. There are ways around this, however, such as turning the phone off, sending it out of country, or blocking the signal of the kill switch.

Because these methods are often not enough, criminals are still able to make huge profits off the enterprise. Encryption would help stop this by making the phone unusable and thus unsellable.

Encryption would also help protect against security breaches of personal and corporate data, safeguarding individuals as well as companies and even government agencies, which have shown themseles unprepared in the fight against cybercrimes.

Bankston notes that Law enforcement agents, such as Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr., ignore these findings and would rather highlight a small number of cases in which password protected or encrypted phones have, in Vance’s words, impeded local police from “potentially solv[ing] the murder.”

What Vance is ignoring, however, is the prevention of crime, instead criticizing a technology which would keep his constituents, and law enforcement officers, safer.

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