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N.Y. State bill calling for smartphone backdoors still in play

A bill that languished in the New York State Assembly last year that would require smartphone manufacturers to build a backdoor into their encrypted devices is still alive and could potentially be voted on at some point this year.

N.Y. A8093, introduced in June 2015 by New York State Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-SI), would require any smartphone sold or leased in New York would have to be capable of being decrypted or unlocked by its manufacture. The original implementation date was to be Jan. 1, 2016, but it was never brought up for a vote.

A spokesman for Titone told that the bill is now back with the Consumer Affairs committee where it is being reviewed. There is no timetable for when it might be brought up for a vote.

If voted into law the bills calls for a $2,500 fine to be levied against the retailer or buyer of a fully encrypted smartphone.

The bill is supported by New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. who noted in a paper issued in November 2015 that law enforcement could find itself incapable of properly investigating a case if access to a smartphone were not only blocked by the defendant, but technically impossible.

“In almost all cases, it will be legally impossible to compel a defendant to provide his or her passcode or to use the passcode to open her or his phone. In those few cases in which it might be legally possible to compel the defendant to provide the information, it would be impossible as a practical matter to compel a recalcitrant defendant facing serious charges to do so,” Vance wrote.

This battle is also taking place at the federal level with some lawmakers and agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation calling for backdoors, while privacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have come out in support of allowing encryption.

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