Compliance Management, Privacy

Apple tells Justice iMessage encryption prevents compliance with court order

Tech companies continue to square off against the government over encryption and privacy.

In the latest round Apple told the Justice Department that iMessage encryption made it impossible to comply with a court order to turn over real time text messages between two suspects in a drug investigation this summer, according to a report in the New York Times.

Tech companies of late have drawn a harder line in the data privacy sand, rebuffing government attempts to gain access to customer records and adopting stronger encryption for communications. Microsoft is notably locked in a battle with the Justice Department over Justice's attempts to get customer email stored on a server in Ireland. And the federal agency, along with other law enforcement groups, has argued that encryption will stand in the way of their efforts to fight crime. That tech and Justice are at loggerheads come as no surprise.

“The circumstances surrounding encryption and privacy in the United States have forced the debate into the courtroom, effectively making it a zero sum game,” Tim Erlin, director of IT security and risk strategy at Tripwire, said in comments emailed to “Tech companies and law enforcement now seek a ‘win' for their side, rather than a mutually satisfactory solution.”

The results might be far from ideal. “The courts are a blunt instrument for achieving resolution on complex technology issues,” said Erlin. “In most cases they are less than ideal for finding a reasonable compromise.”

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