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During a closed-door meeting in October, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told Apple its recently implemented iMessage encryption technology will one day result in a dead child, according to a report published Wednesday.
Citing people who were at the Oct. 1 meeting, The Wall Street Journal reports Cole drew a grim picture for Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell and others in attendance, saying the company is marketing to criminals.
As paraphrased by the publication, Cole reportedly read a portion of Apple's privacy webpage, which says the company is incapable of accessing data stored on hardware running iOS 8 as it no longer stores encryption keys. Apple repeats the claim in a guide to filling out government requests for customer data.
This, the DOJ second in command said, will one day result in the death of a child. Police will say they could have used information stored on an iPhone to save the child or stopped the perpetrator, Cole predicted.
Sewell called the theoretical circumstance inflammatory and inaccurate, pointing out police have more tools at their disposal when it comes to gleaning information from mobile devices. For example, phone records can be traced through cellular carriers, while other information may be found through iCloud or other storage services that are not subject to the same encryption policies. Just last week a report claimed the DOJ spies on mobile phone owners with airplane-mounted "dirtboxes" that scrape user ID data by posing as cell phone towers.
When asked why Apple can't create a backdoor to be used by law enforcement agents acting with proper court approval, Sewell said, "We can't create a key that only the good guys can use."
News of the October meeting comes as U.S. government agencies struggle to strike a balance between public sentiment and overcoming emerging consumer privacy technology that thwarts their own law enforcement operations. Days before Cole allegedly laid out his prediction to Apple, FBI Director James Comey said iOS 8 put users "above the law" and Apple was actively marketing that fact.
In the same interview, Comey alluded to a child's kidnapping, suggesting relevant information may one day save a life if provided in a timely manner. Comey further elucidated on the topic by using a real life example in a subsequent one-on-one with 60 Minutes less than two weeks later.
The situation isn't one that is new to Apple. Last year, it came to light that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency was having trouble breaking Apple's iMessage encryption even when a legitimate warrant was served.