FBI Director James Comey gave a speech at the Brookings Institute yesterday to make a case against companies that allow customers to encrypt their digital data. The speech came following moves by both Apple and Google to encrypt users’ data on their electronic devices, essentially locking out law enforcement agencies along with identity thieves and criminals from a treasure trove of personal information.
Comey explained that such a lockout allows criminals to “go dark” and prevents law enforcement officials from accessing information and evidence against predators, terrorists or criminals. “With Going Dark, those of us in law enforcement and public safety have a major fear of missing out—missing out on predators who exploit the most vulnerable among us…missing out on violent criminals who target our communities…missing out on a terrorist cell using social media to recruit, plan, and execute an attack.”
But civil rights advocates have a different take on the matter. “Whether the FBI calls it a front door or a backdoor, any effort by the FBI to weaken encryption leaves our highly personal information and our business information vulnerable to hacking by foreign governments and criminals,” Laura W. Murphy, director of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “We hope that others in the tech industry follow their lead and realize that customers put a high value on privacy, security and free speech.”
In a statement to Ars Technica, Google explained: “People previously used safes and combination locks to keep their information secure—now they use encryption. It’s why we have worked hard to provide this added security for our users.”
Comey closed his speech by suggesting the conflict between liberty and security just needs a “regulatory or legislative fix to create a level playing field.” However, it doesn’t look like too many on the Hill are eager to jump on board.
“I’d be surprised if more than a handful of members would support the idea of backdooring Americans’ personal property,” Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and vocal privacy advocate, said.
“And a House Democratic aide said that staffers have been in touch with the FBI on the issue but that Congress is unlikely to force technology companies to build backdoors into their networks and devices anytime soon.”