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Dan Conley warns Congress over Apple, Google encryption

Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley. Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley told a congressional panel Wednesday that high-tech titans Apple and Google have embraced encryption technology that will give criminals a “legal advantage’’ over the men, women, and children they victimize.

In comments prepared for an afternoon appearance before a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, Conley said he and other members of the National District Attorneys Association have concluded that the companies have encrypted their products in a way that puts the information they contain beyond the reach of law enforcement investigations.

“In America, we often say that none of us is above the law,’’ Conley said in his prepared remarks. “But when unaccountable corporate interests place crucial evidence beyond the legitimate reach of our courts, they are in fact granting those who rape, defraud, assault, and even kill a profound legal advantage over victims and society.’’


Conley singled out Apple’s operating system known as iOS8 used on iPhones and iPads and Google’s operating system for mobile platforms. In both cases, he said, the companies have boasted that law enforcement cannot get user information even if prosecutors get a valid search warrant.

“We undertake these searches to solve crimes,’’ Conley said. “Let’s be very clear about who will benefit from it: the perpetrators of every violent, sexual, or financial crime in which hand-held technology is used. This isn’t rhetoric. It’s reality.’’

He referred to a recent multi-jurisdictional child pornography investigation in which detectives thought the suspect was only recycling existing child pornography. But when investigators obtained his cellphone, they discovered he was creating new child pornography images.

“Human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children is aided and abetted by the same technology,’’ Conley said, noting that the child pornographer is now serving a 45-year sentence. “Cases like this one, which re-victimize child rape victims every time a video clip is shared, have skyrocketed with the advent of faster, more powerful technology.’’


He also noted that in the death penalty trial of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, some of the powerful evidence of Tsarnaev’s connection to the bombing came from cellphones.

Conley questioned the motives of the companies who boast about protecting the privacy of their customers, yet use the information gleaned from the use of their products for their own benefit.

“We don’t monitor what websites people visit, or aggregate data about people’s personal health, wealth, or shopping habits,’’ he said.

Conley and other witnesses are urging Congress to step in to ensure that law enforcement can get the information they need for criminal investigations. Other members of law enforcement, including the FBI, have raised concerns similar to Conley’s.

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.