In this July 30, 2014, file photo, Silicon Valley pioneer and Silent Circle co-founder Jon Callas holds up Blackphone with encryption apps displayed on it at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. The Paris terrorist attacks have renewed the debate between law-enforcement officials and privacy advocates over whether there should be limits to encryption technology. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
Your phone is getting better and better at protecting your privacy. But Uncle Sam isn’t totally comfortable with that, because it’s also complicating the work of tracking criminals and potential national-security threats.
For decades, tech companies have steadily expanded the use of encryption—a data-scrambling technology that shields information from prying eyes, whether it’s sent over the Internet or stored on phones and computers. For almost as long, police and intelligence agencies have sought to poke holes in the security technology, which can thwart investigators even when they have a legal warrant for, say, possibly incriminating text messages stored on a phone.
The authorities haven’t fared well; strong encryption now keeps strangers out of everything from your iMessages to app data stored on the latest Android phones. But in the wake of the Paris attacks, U.S. officials are again pushing for limits on encryption, even though there’s still no evidence the extremists used it to safeguard their communications.
While various experts are exploring ways of resolving the impasse, none are making much headway. For now, the status quo favors civil libertarians and the tech industry, although that could…