Google forges ahead with data encryption despite FBI warnings

Google forges ahead with data encryption despite FBI warnings
© Google

Google on Wednesday vowed to charge ahead with more encryption of user data even as law enforcement officials warn the technology could hamper their investigations.

The tech giant's director of law enforcement and information security, Richard Salgado, on Wednesday told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the security techniques are a net positive for law enforcement, because they can many times prevent online crime in the first place.

ADVERTISEMENT
"There are lots of different ways to secure data besides encryption, but there is pretty much a consensus inside the security community that encryption is a fundamental and critical way to protect users data from the very thieves, identity theft cases, [and] privacy intrusions that law enforcement is interested in investigating," Salgado told Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley: 'Good chance' Senate panel will consider bills to protect Mueller Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Iowa). 

Grassley brought up concerns from the Justice Department, FBI and other agencies that are worried that stronger encryption could prevent tech companies from complying with government requests for user data, even with a valid warrant. 

Echoing law enforcement concerns, Grassley said officials have warned "this technology made court authorized warrants not worth the paper that they are printed on." However, recent reports note that the Obama administration might be softening its tone on the issue. 

"We are working towards more encryption on our products and our services as part of a larger plan to make sure the data services we provide to our users are secure and that users can use our services knowing that the information they entrust to us is safe," Google's Salgado said. 

Apple has made encryption a standard feature on new mobile devices, and Google allows users to enable encryption. Earlier this year, the company said not all Android supported devices are encrypted by default yet because of performance issues.  

Aside from increased security, the tech industry's moves are seen as a way to gain back some user trust that was lost following revelations about secret U.S. surveillance programs and the industry's compliance. 

The back and forth Wednesday came during a hearing exploring an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The technology industry and many lawmakers have been pushing a bill that would require the government to obtain a warrant when seeking customer's old emails or other electronic communication from a provider like Google.