FBI director James Comey has given a stark warning against smartphone data encryption.
Mr Comey said murder investigations could be stalled, suspects could go free and “justice may be denied because of a locked phone or an encrypted hard drive”.
Likening encrypted data to a safe that cannot be cracked or a closet door that will not open, he said the move by technology companies to protect user information in the name of privacy impedes a wide range of criminal investigations.
The FBI chief singled out the recent announcements by Apple and Google that their new operating systems are encrypted, or protected by coding.
In a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, he said: “Encryption isn’t just a technical feature. It’s a marketing pitch. But it will have very serious consequences for law enforcement and national security agencies at every level.”
Mr Comey said public concerns that the US government sweeps up all mobile phone communications – or has access to all communications at all times – are unfounded.