Google chief blames feds for phone locks

Federal officials should have expected tech companies to respond to their snooping by turning to technical measures to lock them out, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said on Wednesday.

Top officials including Attorney General Eric Holder have criticized tech companies like Google and Apple for making their phones inaccessible to anyone except the owner — even police with a warrant.

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But the companies are only taking natural steps to respond to the spying, Schmidt said at a Silicon Valley event with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

“The people who are criticizing this should have expected this,” he said.

Google’s plans to allow people to encrypt emails from the moment they are sent until a reader opens them came out of extra scrutiny from Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the equivalent of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the U.S., he revealed.

“After Google was attacked by the British version of the NSA, we were annoyed to no end,” Schmidt said, “so we put end-to-end encryption at rest as well as through our systems, making it essentially impossible for interlopers of any kind to get that information.”

Wyden, the Senate Finance Committee chairman who hosted the event on the economic effect of the spying, said that lawmakers should intervene so companies are not forced into the position of locking federal agents out, and opposed the idea that they would be required to build back doors into their systems.

“What’s needed is to find laws that ensure that liberty and security are not mutually exclusive, so that companies aren’t forced to duke it out with the government in technology labs in order to retain their customers,” Wyden said. 

— Upcated on Oct. 9 to clarify Sen. Wyden's stance.