New Encryption Measures from Google and Apple Could Endanger Children, Eric Holder Says

Attorney General Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Attorney general criticizes tech companies for locking the back door to user data.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is worried new data-encryption features on phones that claim to lock out law enforcement officials could place children's lives in danger.

These kinds of measures could get in the way of a kidnapping or child-abuse investigation, according to Holder.

"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," Holder said during remarks Tuesday at the Biannual Global Alliance Conference Against Child Sexual Abuse Online.

"It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so."

Although he did not explicitly point fingers at Apple and Google, his comments come shortly after the two tech giants unveiled new phones with enhanced encryption that deliberately make it difficult for law enforcement officials to access users' data. With this feature, data on the new models can only be unlocked by a passcode held by the phone's owner.

"It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy," Holder said.

Holder's remarks echo a growing chorus of criticism from other top law enforcement officials who are concerned the police-proof security measure could keep them from investigating a crime.

"I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I also believe that no one in this country is beyond the law," FBI Director James Comey said last week. "What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law."

Holder said new technologies, like the cloud and mobile devices, "embolden online criminals" and make it easier for them to get away with criminal activity.