Eric Holder says 'worrisome' tech companies are eyeing encryption

US attorney general's remarks follow similar concerns from the FBI

For the second time in as many weeks, a senior U.S. government official has warned that widespread use of encryption could harm investigations.

In a speech to the Global Alliance Conference Against Child Sexual Abuse Online conference in Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said it's "worrisome" that companies are introducing systems that thwart the ability of law enforcement to quickly access a smartphone when a child is in danger.

"We would hope that technology companies would be willing to work with us to ensure that law enforcement retains the ability, with court-authorization, to lawfully obtain information in the course of an investigation, such as catching kidnappers and sexual predators," he said, according to a transcript provided by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy," he said.

Holder's remarks echo those made last week by FBI Director James Comey, who told reporters that quick access by law enforcement to the contents of a smartphone could save lives in some kidnapping and terrorism cases.

The warnings come as Apple and Google are rolling out capabilities that enable millions of smartphone users to protect information on their devices so that no one, aside from someone in possession of a password, can access the data. Even the OS makers and phone companies won't have access.

Apple's iOS 8 allows users to encrypt some information on their phones while the next version of Google's Android OS, Android L, will enable full-phone encryption by default.

Carney accused smartphone companies of offering encryption as "something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law."

Some see the government requests as not without irony. Interest in encryption has been heightened by revelations from former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that several U.S. government programs are sucking up details on the communications of millions of people.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags U.S. Department of JusticeCriminalsecuritylegalencryption

More about AppleDepartment of JusticeFBIGoogleIDGNational Security AgencyNews

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Martyn Williams

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place