​Trump administration could help press tech firms to cooperate more with law enforcement, Hood says

1 March 2017. 

The Trump administration could be a greater ally than its predecessor in pressing technology companies to help law enforcement with intellectual property and privacy issues as well as encryption problems that arise in investigations, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said.

Hood's profile on tech issues has been raised through his legal tangles with Google, including his recent suit protesting the company's data-collection practices.

Obama administration officials didn't push high-tech companies enough to cooperate with state law enforcers, he told MLex.

"I hope the Trump administration will take a more aggressive stance" with tech companies "on privacy issues and [other challenges] AGs face," he said.

Those challenges include curbing the sale of illegal products such as counterfeit drugs and gaining access to information on encrypted devices tied to a crime, Hood said.

Despite his office's focus on Google, Hood said his comments weren't aimed specifically at the operator of the world's most popular search engine but the tech sector overall. He stressed that some tech companies are helpful, singling out Facebook for aiding in searches for missing children.

Hood isn't alone in his criticism of technology companies. On the campaign trail last year, Donald Trump called for a boycott of Apple until the company complied with a court order to give the US Federal Bureau of Investigation access to the iPhone of a terrorist who with his wife carried out the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Apple said giving the FBI access would create a precedent that would threaten future customer privacy.

Obama administration officials came under criticism for not proposing legislation to require companies to provide law enforcement with information on phones and other devices connected to investigations.

Some of Hood's counterparts in other states found Obama officials too timid in confronting the high-tech industry, which generally supported the president.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, the leading contender to be named US Federal Trade Commission chairman, and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine last year urged the FTC to reopen its investigation into Google's search practices. The FTC closed the probe in 2013 after demanding minor changes from Google.

Hood is fighting Google in court over conducting his investigation into the company's Internet search, privacy and intellectual property practices.

Hood sued Google for allegedly violating student privacy and the state's consumer protection law by selling ads using data from services it provides to public schools. Google on Monday filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the case shouldn't be tried in the state because it has no offices in Mississippi.

Separately, he has accused Google of making it too easy for people to search for and buy counterfeit goods and illegal drugs, and unlawfully view copyrighted materials. He has credited Google with changing its search engine to make it harder to find sites selling illegal goods.

Google has said Hood's probe amounts to harassment and is unnecessary. The company accused Hood of being a proxy of the Motion Picture Association of America, which has criticized Google for making pirated films easily available to search users.

The Mississippi AG told MLex his concerns extend beyond Google. He expressed frustration with how unhelpful, in his view, high-tech companies have been in aiding law enforcement gain access to information on electronic devices even if a search warrant has been granted.

"It's our best information [in crimes] right now, the cell phone," he said.

Hood said other industries, after repeated urging, have reversed their policies to help law enforcement, such as when banks in the last decade stopped processing credit card payments related to child pornography.