Oversight

The Trump Administration’s Lies About Encryption Are Putting Our Privacy in Danger

Attorney General William Barr is demanding Apple weaken its encryption — with disastrous implications for everyone’s security

Trevor Timm
GEN
Published in
4 min readJan 15, 2020

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Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

TThe Trump administration is now engaged in a multipronged effort to pressure tech companies to weaken encryption protecting the privacy of billions of people. And make no mistake: They are blatantly lying about it to try to get their way.

First, Trump’s Justice Department targeted WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption for messaging late last year. Now, it’s going after Apple and the encryption that prevents criminals or governments from gaining access to the data on your iPhone.

Attorney General William Barr gave a speech this week castigating Apple for “refusing” to help unlock the iPhone of a Saudi national who killed three U.S. service members in Pensacola, Florida, in late 2019. Barr declined to comment on whether he would bring legal action against the company, but Apple is quietly preparing for such a fight.

Now, the context here is important. Barr is pretending his demand to Apple is about solving a terrorism case, and that Apple is refusing any help. But Barr isn’t asking Apple to help access this one phone. Barr wants the ability to force Apple to access anyone’s phone if the government comes asking.

Apple has engineered every iPhone so that only the person who creates the phone’s passcode can open it; otherwise, all of the data is protected by encryption that even Apple can’t bypass. Apple doesn’t have that capability unless it were to reengineer its software, leaving everyone’s phone vulnerable to this same flaw.

This type of device encryption protects journalists, whistleblowers, lawyers, doctors, activists, and politicians every day (yes, even those in the Trump administration). And it is one of the few mainstream tools sold today that actually increases our privacy, rather than weakens it.

Now the Trump administration wants to do away with it.

But here’s the absolutely brazen lie: Barr is claiming that the FBI can’t get into the phone. That is flat-out…

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Trevor Timm
GEN
Writer for

Trevor Timm is the executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation. His writing has appeared the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Intercept.