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Area law enforcement says encryption creates barriers for digital investigations

Posted at 6:35 PM, Feb 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-18 18:40:39-05

CLEVELAND — Law enforcement agencies around the country and here in Northeast Ohio face a new hurtle in the digital age: encryption. Technology companies have responded to hackers and cyber criminals with robust end-to-end encryption. But the encrypted platforms aren’t keeping just hackers out, but law enforcement as well.

“It’s a huge problem that continues to get worse every day,” said Justin Herdman, US Attorney Northern District of Ohio.

Data once easily available to law enforcement armed with a warrant is now causing problems for police in their digital investigations. “It’s not just a national security issue, it’s a public safety issue,” said Eric Smith, Special Agent in Charge, Cleveland Field Office.

Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies here, across the country and around the globe are growing increasingly concerned and frustrated. “We have a court order to access information and these companies are prohibiting us from doing it by setting up technical barriers,” said Herdman.

The enhanced security is leaving police in the dark, not being able to see encrypted messages and passwords, locking them out of devices. Federal authorities struggled for days to get into the mobile phone of the shooter who committed the mass murder in Dayton, just like years before in the 2015 shooting in San Bernardino.

“If we continue to move in the direction we are moving, we’re going to get to a place where we aren’t able to protect a 9-year-old girl from a child predator, and that’s not a place we want to be in,” added Smith.

Germany, Brazil and Sweden are among the countries currently working on laws to help give access to law enforcement in their countries. In December, U.S. lawmakers warned tech companies to act on encryption or they will.

The CEO of the Consumer Technology Association just days ago wrote an op-ed piece. In it, he argued that creating a back door for law enforcement will also give hackers access.

“We don’t want a back door, we want a front door,” said Smith.