Can the police access my phone?

US and Australia to gain access to your phone

Wednesday 27 April, 2022

Back in February 2020, we wrote an article about how the UK and US law enforcement agencies were trying to find ways to access and bypass mobile phone encryption. The agencies wanted to be able to read sensitive or personal data and information from mobile phones in each other’s country. 

It has now been recently reported that the US and Australia have agreed to make it easier to access smartphones by their respective law enforcement departments to gain email and other digital records needed in criminal investigations.

Whilst both have stated that they only ever intend to use this access for their criminal investigations, such as terrorism, child abuse and organised crime, others have voiced the same concerns that were used during the UK / US agreement; that it can be used to breach their personal privacy and human rights.

How will the access agreement work?

The United States and Australia have agreed that the pact would permit both sides to gain "timely access" to the electronic information which they believe is essential for their serious crime investigations. 

Under the US Cloud Act, the deal will let each country ask for and receive a suspect’s digital communications direct from the other country’s telecoms companies. This means they could avoid the need of first having to go through a painstaking process in the courts.

Why has the mobile data access been agreed?

Both the United States and Australia believe that the previous processes involved with requesting digital access were too time consuming, overly complex and had frequently led to the investigations being impeded or in some cases derailed.

The countries believe that, by simplifying the access to the criminal’s mobile phone files, they will be able to progress their investigations more quickly and with a better success rate. 

What are the privacy issues around mobile phone access?

There are several privacy and human rights issues that have been raised with regards to law enforcement agencies having the ability to access mobile phones. Some believe the move is contentious as they feel such access significantly weakens the strength of the mobile security and privacy. As a result, the requests could also be used to gain access to other private citizens’ information. 

They believe that this move would have a detrimental affect on their privacy and human rights. However, the US and Australia have stated that these access requests would only ever be used in a criminal investigation and that all other private individuals have nothing to worry about.

So, is there a straight answer? 

We think that the debate about the benefits and downsides for complete mobile encryption verses access for legal purposes is likely to continue for some time. Obviously, mobile phone security is paramount in maintaining the privacy and integrity of individuals, businesses, journalists, or political activists. 

But what do you think? 

Do you think mobile privacy should be maintained and all other access should be denied? Or do you think that the ability of law enforcement agencies being able to access devices in cases of serious criminality should be granted?

Let us know your thoughts via Twitter @BlackphoneUK

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