Last summer, Assemblyman Matthew Titone of Staten Island introduced a bill that would force all smartphone manufacturers to create phones they are able to unlock. This bill, reintroduced last week, would drastically reduce the privacy and security we associate with our smartphones.
According to Popular Science, most of today’s phones can only be unlocked by the owner. A memo accompanying the anti-encryption bill explains why this can be problematic: “It is as if the police get a search warrant for a safe deposit box at a bank because they have reason to believe that the safe deposit box has evidence of a crime – but they cannot open the box because the bank has thrown away its own key. This situation is even worse because whereas a safe deposit box can, ultimately, be opened by force, a passcode-protected smartphone is virtually impregnable, unless the companies maintain the ability to open the phones that it manufacturers.”
A cryptographic back door would allow smartphone companies and the government to access any smartphone, but it would also open the device to hackers and everyone else.
“You can’t build a backdoor that only the good guys can walk through,” explains security researcher Bruce Schneier. “Encryption protects against cybercriminals, industrial competitors, the Chinese secret police, and the FBI. You’re either vulnerable to eavesdropping by any of them, or you’re secure from eavesdropping from all of them.”
As The Independent reports, this bill is a serious threat to companies like Apple, whose smartphones are designed with no back door and can only be unlocked by the owner. Punishment for refusing to install metaphorical back doors could result in huge penalties, up to “$2,500 for every phone they sell that cannot be unlocked.” You can see how these fees could escalate into the tens of millions. If the bill passes, it’s likely that iPhones will not longer be available in New York.