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Google to Offer Automatic Data Encryption in Next Version of Android

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Data encryption will come as a default setting for the next version of Google’s Android operating system, so far known as Android L to be released next month, the company reports. This change will make it practically impossible for law enforcement to gain access to a users’ personal data without consent.

MOSCOW, September 20 (RIA Novosti) - Data encryption will come as a default setting for the next version of Google’s Android operating system, so far known as Android L to be released next month, the company reports. This change will make it practically impossible for law enforcement to gain access to a users’ personal data without consent.

"For over three years Android has offered encryption, and keys are not stored off of the device, so they cannot be shared with law enforcement," said company spokeswoman Niki Christoff as cited by Washington Post. "As part of our next Android release, encryption will be enabled by default out of the box, so you won't even have to think about turning it on."

Android has offered optional data encryption in some devices since 2011, however, it has not be a default setting for its software. The security feature was buried deep within the OS and was not clear on how to activate it. Thus, few users have actually employed the security feature. Now with the coming release, smartphones with Android L will be automatically encrypted. Only those who know the device’s password will be able to access the devices pictures, videos or e-mails.

The move will bring Android in line with Apple, who also added default data encryption to iOS 8, in offering a high level of data protection. Both rival operating systems now make it practically impossible for law enforcement officials to harvest data from  detained smartphones. The move by Google and Apple reflects a growing trend of many American technology companies who are focusing on greater security a users’ personal data. These new products are being designed to become more resistant to government surveillance programs in the aftermath of revelations made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The enhanced data protection provided by Google and Apple will directly affect law enforcement officers who have long argued that access restrictions to personal electronic devices make it difficult to prevent crimes and terrorist attacks. In June the Supreme Court ruled that police must acquire a search warrant to gain access to data stored on smartphones. These new features will leave law enforcement in the dark. Police have no legal right to force a suspect to unlock their phone. However, law enforcement still may use a search warrant to gain all information stored in the Cloud.

Privacy advocates praise the moves by Apple and Google to embrace default data encryption for mobile devices.

"Most people aren't going to go out of their way to do these things," said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist for the Center for Democracy & Technology, a Washington-based non-profit group that receives substantial industry support. "It's so awesome, as someone who has worked on these issues for a long time, to see these two companies switch their defaults to where these things will be strongly encrypted, and rightly so."

The new Apple update will only affect those phones which are running iOS 8. The iPhone 4 and older models will still be open to data harvesting by law enforcement. Apple is able to update their phones remotely as well, making the transition to iOS 8 very easy.

By contrast, Google does not have the ability to deliver the Android L update quickly to most users. The software is fragmented, meaning there are hundreds of different versions of Android worldwide – which makes it difficult to keep them up to date with the latest software updates. It will take several months for most Android devices to be updated with this new feature.

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