Quoted: FBI director on encryption, backdoors and ‘good’ tech companies

“The government doesn’t want a backdoor. The government hopes to get to a place to where if a judge issues an order, the company figures out how to supply that information to the judge and figures out on its own what would be the best way to do that. The government shouldn’t be telling people how to operate their systems.”

James Comey, FBI director, in testimony Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee — during which, the New York Times notes, he for the first time provided an example of a terrorist using encrypted communications. (Comey said investigators couldn’t read more than 100 text messages between an attacker in Garland, Texas this year and an “overseas terrorist.”)

Comey told the committee that the government and tech industry aren’t at odds over encryption, that both sides care about public safety. He says he has concluded that: “It’s not a technical issue. It’s a business model question. Lots of good people have designed their systems and their devices so that judges’ orders cannot be complied with. Should they change their business model? That’s a very, very hard question. But we have to wrestle with it because of what’s at stake.”

Who are these “good people” Comey is talking about? Well, I wrote in October that Apple said without user passcodes, it’s impossible for the company to unlock iPhones running iOS 8 or later. Apple CEO Tim Cook has spoken out strongly for encryption and often says Apple above all cares about its customers’ privacy. And newer Android phones have encryption turned on by default.

While the Obama administration has not called for weakening encryption, there are other efforts under way to address Comey’s concerns. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., are working on a bill that would give law enforcement with a court order the ability to “look into an encrypted Web,” according to the Daily Dot.

Encryption and other technology, including social media, are in the spotlight especially in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks. Queenie Wong wrote this week that Feinstein and Burr reintroduced a bill that would require tech companies to report terrorist activity to law enforcement. Michelle Quinn wrote that the tech industry has become a convenient political scapegoat in these trying times.


Photo: FBI Director James Comey. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT archives)


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  • Hosni

    If an American is texting with a known terrorist, the FBI should ask the judge for a search warrant (of the American’s smartphone), and if the American refuses put him/her in jail for contempt of court.

    The FBI can already do this. Instead, however, it wants tech companies to invent a ‘secure back door’ so they can get into the phone of the suspected American without him/her being aware of it. The American’s subsequent communications may lead the FBI to other terrorists.

    That’s a laudable goal, but running more surveillance in the hopes of locating unknown third parties or unknown future crimes is really a fishing expedition. Fishing expeditions don’t deserve or receive search warrants from judges. Thus, the FBI chiefly wants tech companies to provide a back door into mobile phones so the FBI can do end-runs around judicial refusals to authorize FBI fishing expeditions.

    If an American is in cahoots with a terrorist, the FBI should act on that. End of story. Get the American to reveal his/her terrorist-related communication, or go to jail. Don’t tamper with the privacy rights of all Americans to promote the FBI pie-in-the-sky dream of a big sting, several months hence. The terrorists operate in small cells, as opposed to running integrated networks that can be accessed with the cell phone of a lone American.

  • zayahv2

    Would you leave your back doors open at night just in case the police needed to come save you from the guy who walked into your back door because you left it open? A back door is an open door. If the government can get hacked by China why should we leave our doors open to them, China or anyone else with the tech savvy to use said door?

  • JHankwitz

    Be it media control, gun control, or information control, our government wants total control of the people. It’s time to kiss the Bill of Rights and our freedom goodby.

    • Jason C.

      Notice how hard the government is screaming and trying to force their way into our lives?

      The NSA has been and is stealing our private data via electronic theft.

      Now the FBI is demanding, via a manipulative tactic, that we allow THEM into our data.

      The Chief of Police in Chicago was sniveling about 6 months ago that encryption was a threat to law enforcement because they couldn’t “catch pedophiles.” Yep. How many pedophiles do you really think there are? And are those few thousand worth allowing the government into our private data? Hell no. The police chief as merely parroting what the entire government is trying to do… control us.

  • Jason C.

    The FBI Director just recently blamed heavy scrutiny of street police for a spike in violent crime.
    Yes, he did. Google it. HE blamed the public and the media for taking a hard, close look at all the police activity involving the deaths of citizens on our streets at the hands of police. HE blamed us for demanding prosecutions of street police who have killed un-armed people and then tell lies that are in direct conflict with video recordings. HE blamed us, the American public.

    An FBI official about a year ago also labeled anyone who resisted increased taxes as “urban TERRORISTS” because “taxes are needed by law enforcement.” In OUR country, WE decide what WE are willing to pay in taxes. Usually through politicians .. but sometimes through the ballot box directly. i.e. Prop 13 in California.

    The FBI also just about 6 months ago was forced to shut down their un-constitutional program where they had placed over 3,000 tracking devices on private vehicles without a court order. WHO said it was an un-constitutional? The US Supreme Court said that FBI program was unconstitutional, thats who. The FBI refused to cease that program until the Supreme Court ordered them to through a ruling against the FBI.

    The FBI Crime Lab was involved in scandal about 6 years ago where evidence had been tampered with and/or labeled wrongly yet that FBI lab sent the evidence into criminal court rooms and hundreds of defendants were falsely accused with that faulty lab work.

    Google all of this if you don’t believe me. THEN… realize… the FBI is NOT trustworthy in what the Director wants with our personal data.


    The Director of the FBI and the FBI itself are not to be trusted with our personal data. They don’t need a back door. They can work around the problem without being allowed into our lives like they demand of us.


    If I was a moron, THAT’S what I would say too!!!


    People are building their tech, so it can’t be compelled by a judges orders for 1 reason…..
    YOU!!!! Governments who have, & are attempting to rape the Privacy of those who
    have a Constitutionally protected right to it, are the reasons tech companies have
    been forced into this!!! The tech companies are businesses, & like all businesses,
    they rely on, you guessed it, business too stay afloat…If that business CAN’T, or
    won’t supply what it is the customers want, those customers go elsewhere, making
    that business a failure!!! No business owners want their businesses too fail!!!

    When the Citizens of this Country found out they were having their rights violated,
    Not only at the hands of a government who has a Sworn duty to uphold those rights,
    but were also aided & abetted, by the companies, those Citizens not only paid,
    but trusted to maintain their right to privacy!! When that trust was violated, it cost
    those companies Billions in losses!!! I still own a cell phone, but rarely use it! The only
    reason I still own one is because not everyone I know owns a more secure devise for
    communications, but if they did, I would get rid of the privacy stealing cell in a heartbeat!!!

    My cell carrier is all over me, trying too give me a FREE i phone! I won’t take it though,
    because it’s far less secure than my older devise!!! I DON’T like FREE!!!! Free is a
    HUGE RED Flag, as far as I’m concerned!!! Free is about as unpleasant a word
    as “Affordable” is!!! BOTH can have VERY broad meanings!!! Free isn’t Free
    if you have to give up rights to get it!!!! Affordable to a rich person, is in NO
    way even close to being affordable for someone who is NOT rich!!!!!

    Affordable healthcare…..FOR WHO? If I break my leg & need a cast, it would be
    Cheaper for me to just pay CASH for that treatment, than it would for me to pay
    a $5,600 deductible, & have my ‘Affordable healthcare’ cover it!!!! Basically,
    the insurance company would profit over 2 grand from that broken leg!!!!

    As if THAT isn’t a bad enough scam, our government is attempting to Force everyone
    to take part in that scam!!!!! FK YOU OBAMA!!! I will NOT comply!!!!

  • travelsonic

    This only reaffirms my belief that the government needs not just tech literate people, but people capable of logical reasoning, as people with either skills are seriously lacking in the decision making part of these agencies.