Police: Apple, Google should ban foreign encrypted apps

Police: Apple, Google should ban foreign encrypted apps
© Getty Images

Apple and Google should police their app stores to eliminate fully encrypted foreign communication apps, law enforcement officials told lawmakers Tuesday.

“Right now Google and Apple act as gatekeepers,” said Captain Charles Cohen, the commander of the Indiana State Police’s Office of Intelligence and Investigative Technologies.


Congress is currently debating whether to move on legislation that would require American companies to help investigators access encrypted data.

But many have long argued that such a move would simply send criminals to foreign-based secure communication apps outside U.S. jurisdiction.

At a House hearing Tuesday, Rep. Morgan GriffithHoward (Morgan) Morgan GriffithOvernight Energy: Senate Dems introduce Green New Deal alternative | Six Republicans named to House climate panel | Wheeler confirmed to lead EPA Six Republicans named to House climate panel House passes bill expressing support for NATO MORE (R-Va.) posed this question to two law enforcement officials.

“Given that so many of the encrypted products could be from companies not located in U.S., if we force companies that we do have jurisdiction to weaken the security of their products, are we doing little more than hurting US industry and sending bad actors to a different format that we don't have control over?” Griffith asked.

The officials maintained that if Apple and Google bar these foreign apps, it would seriously limit Americans’ access to them. The two companies control the vast majority of apps downloaded in the U.S.

“If an app is not available [in their app stores], a customer in the U.S. can't install,” Cohen said during the hearing, held by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.

Chief Thomas Galati, who heads the New York City Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau, went a step further.

“Certain apps are not available on all devices,” he said. “If the companies that are outside of the U.S. and can't comply with the same rules and regulations as the ones that are in the U.S., they shouldn't be available in the app store.”

Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrDOJ plans to show Senate Intel less-redacted Mueller report, filing shows Bipartisan House bill calls for strategy to protect 5G networks from foreign threats Overnight Defense: Congressional leaders receive classified briefing on Iran | Trump on war: 'I hope not' | Key Republican calls threats credible | Warren plan targets corporate influence at Pentagon MORE (R-N.C.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report Jeffrey Rosen officially sworn in as deputy attorney general This week: Democrats, White House set for infrastructure, budget talks MORE (D-Calif.) are backing the measure that would give law enforcement agencies guaranteed access to encrypted data. The bill would mandate that companies offer “technical assistance” when investigators cannot get at the locked data on their own.

The legislation does not directly say whether Apple and Google would have to ensure that customers aren’t using fully encrypted foreign apps on their devices. But some in the tech community believe that in order to comply with the law, these tech giants would be forced to ban these overseas apps.