The issue is part of a long-running debate over whether tech gadgets should have privacy-protecting encryption which makes it difficult for law enforcement to access in time-sensitive investigations.
FBI director James Comey reignited the issue last week, criticizing Apple and Google for new measures that keep smartphones locked down – without even the company holding the keys to unlock the data.
“What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law,” the FBI chief said, warning that law enforcement may be denied timely access, even with a warrant, in cases ranging from child kidnapping to terrorism.
Former FBI criminal division chief Ronald Hosko made a similar point in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, citing a case in which the agency used smartphone data to solve a brutal kidnapping just in time to save the life of the victim.
“Most investigations don’t rely solely on information from one source, even a smartphone,” he said. “But without each and every important piece of the investigative puzzle, criminals and those who plan acts destructive to our national security may walk free.”