Americans Overwhelmingly Back Google, Apple Encryption Efforts

Americans overwhelmingly support recent moves by Google and Apple to encrypt data on personal devices, even if doing so complicates law enforcement efforts by U.S. authorities, according to a Morning Consult poll.

Sixty-eight percent of voters back the new privacy protections, compared with 19 percent who say they oppose the increased level of encryption.

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That level of support for Apple and Google cuts across voters of all political persuasions – Democrats support the move by a margin of 65 to 22; Republicans 69 to 20; and Independents 72 to 16.

“People previously used safes and combination locks to keep their information secure – now they use encryption,” a Google spokesperson told Morning Consult. “It’s why we have worked hard to provide this added security for our users.”

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Apple and Google have run into fierce opposition from U.S. authorities who warn that the added layer of security could have life-threatening consequences.

“When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child and to stop those that abuse children,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference last month. “It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so.”

FBI Director James Comey has made similar comments, arguing it would keep law enforcement officials from accessing “a kidnapper’s or a terrorist or a criminal’s device to protect the public.”

Some lawmakers disagree with that line of reasoning. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, told Morning Consult in an interview last month that the government is always using the “imminent threat” argument to justify unwarranted intrusions on a person’s privacy, and that law enforcement officials and the U.S. government haven’t shown adequate restraint when granted such authority in the past.

Holder has pushed for the companies to leave a “backdoor” open for law enforcement, but the Washington Post reported that any such accommodation would compromise the encrypted data as a whole, making it vulnerable to the thieves and hackers the companies say the encryption is meant to guard against.

By encrypting the data, Apple and Google have essentially removed themselves from the legal equation for some data requests, forcing law enforcement officials to go directly to the device owner for access.

Since Edward Snowden revealed the scope of the National Security Agency’s reach into the data of private companies last year, the tech industry has sought to regain its autonomy over consumer data. That effort was underscored today when Twitter sued the Justice Department and the FBI over what the social media company is allowed to say publicly about government requests for user data.

The Morning Consult poll of 1,701 registered voters was conducted between Sept. 26 and Sept. 28 and has a 2.4 percentage point margin of error.

Morning Consult