US government officials have announced they will enforce a ban on encryption on the internet, after the US Justice Department said it would prosecute tech firms for allegedly breaking the law.
The US government’s announcement follows a recent announcement by Google, Apple and others that they were blocking access to popular encrypted apps on their platforms.US officials also warned that it was possible for law enforcement to obtain encrypted data without the assistance of a third party, a practice known as “backdooring”.
“The Government of the United States of America will not be bound by the rules, policies or practices of a technology provider,” the announcement said.
“If the technology provider does not comply with these laws, the Government will be compelled to take appropriate enforcement action.”
Google said it was working to update its software to remove the feature, but warned that “it is not possible to completely remove the software backdooring” if the software is installed on the devices of other people.
“It is important to note that if a person who is a Google employee installs the backdooring software on their device, they are actually installing a backdoor on that device,” the company said.
Google said the FBI had already begun investigating the practice, but added that “we have no evidence that we have been in contact with the individuals responsible for this.”
The FBI declined to comment on the details of the investigation.
The announcement follows several recent US announcements that the government is actively cracking down on encrypted apps.
Apple said in December it would ban encrypted apps from iOS users’ devices after the Justice Department filed a complaint, and Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company would be rolling out new encryption tools to its devices in January.
The FBI said in January that it would be cracking down hard on the “dark web” marketplace Silk Road, which has grown into a major source of illicit drugs, and other markets.
The US Justice department also said in a statement in January it would target encrypted websites, including Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, in a new campaign dubbed Operation ClipperChip.
The move follows a series of recent arrests of encrypted users, including in New York and Los Angeles, where authorities accused Silk Road of selling weapons and drugs.
The UK government is currently investigating Silk Road and other dark web markets after a woman was killed by a man who used the service.
The Justice Department is also investigating the use of encrypted communications apps, such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram, for illicit communication, as well as other services.
The New York Times reported that the FBI was preparing to sue WhatsApp and other companies that use encryption to shield users’ data.