The ostensible Obama administration’s war against Apple and Google providing device encryption on by default has gotten uglier with the prospect that the companies could potentially be held liable for providing material support to terrorists (emphasis added):
Benjamin Wittes, editor-in-chief of the LawFare blog, suggested that Apple could in fact face that liability if it continued to provide encryption services to a suspected terrorist. He noted that the post was in response to an idea raised by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., in a hearing earlier this month.
“In the facts we considered,” wrote Wittes and his co-author, Harvard law student Zoe Bedell, “a court might — believe it or not — consider Apple as having violated the criminal prohibition against material support for terrorism.”
FBI Director James Comey and others have said that end-to-end encryption makes law enforcement harder because service providers don’t have access to the actual communications, and therefore cannot turn them over when served with a warrant.
Wittes and Bedell argue that Apple’s decision to “move aggressively to implement end-to-end encrypted systems, and indeed to boast about them” after being “publicly and repeatedly warned by law enforcement at the very highest levels that ISIS is recruiting Americans” — in part through the use of encrypted messaging apps — could make the company liable if “an ISIS recruit uses exactly this pattern to kill some Americans.”
The blog compares Apple’s actions to a bank sending money to a charity supporting Hamas — knowing that it was a listed foreign terrorist organization.
“The question ultimately turns on whether Apple’s conduct in providing encryption services could, under any circumstances, be construed as material support,” Wittes and Bedell write. The answer, they say, “may be unnerving to executives at Apple.”