New California Bill Seeks to Ban Default Encryption on All Smartphones

California Assembly Bill 1681, which was introduced by Assembly member Jim Cooper, would require any smartphone sold in the state “to be capable of being decrypted and unlocked by its manufacturer or its operating system provider.” Legal experts believe this represents a more drastic measure than the legal precedent currently under examination in the disagreement between Apply and the U.S. Department of Justice. In the Apple case, the government is attempting to force a private enterprise to write additional code that would undermine its security features in certain cases.

Apple and Google currently encrypt their smartphones by default.

The bill before the California Assembly would undo the default setting and penalize manufacturers and providers of the phones’ operating systems by imposing a cost of $2,500 per device for phones that cannot be decrypted when they are sold. Similar legislation has been attempted in the New York State Assembly.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is opposed to such measures designed to regulate the encryption of smartphones because, in California, the bill would put users at risk of identity theft, data breach, stalking and other actions that would compromise their privacy. And since the policy would be impossible to enforce, little benefit would result to the state from its implementation.

U.S. Congressional Representative Ted Lieu has introduce a bill, H.R. 4528, known as the ENCRYPT Act, that would preempt state legislation like A.B. 1681. The EFF believes this is the right approach to the problem, but would like the federal bill to go further and stop Congress and all parts of the federal government from moving to undermine the protections provided by encryption.

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