James Comey, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) made an appearance at a rare open session of the US Senate Intelligence Commission. His case? “Front door” access to encryption technology. The reason? To catch bad guys, according to a report in the Washington Times.
Making away with essential encryption?
Director Comey struck a humble tone in making a plea for law enforcement agencies gain access to files, messages and other forms of communication including emails that use encryption as an added security measure.
Comey has actively refused a surveillance program that was planned during in the Bush Administration in the past. Despite this, he believes there is no real need for strong encryption on end-user devices such as smartphones.
This is in stark contrast to recent strides taken by companies such as Apple to include encryption as a default standard in its software for all mobile devices including the popular iPhone and the iPad. Alongside Apple, Google, Microsoft and a host of nearly 150 tech companies, civil rights groups and pro-privacy advocates recently wrote to President Obama, asking to embrace encryption. Their joint plea was to urge the President to reject any proposals to weaken security on their devices and services. Director Comey sees it in a different way, however.
“I don’t exactly know where the great demand for this (encryption) is coming from… I haven’t met ordinary folks who say, ‘I really want a device that can’t be opened even if an American judge finds it ought to be opened,” Comey said.
Encryption in consumer technology
Along with Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, Director Comey insisted that they’d like tech companies to retain and record user communications which can be retrieved with a warrant at any time. Smartphones that cannot be unlocked due to increased security protocols in consumer technology and end-to-end encryption in simple communication applications are making it harder for counter-terrorism probes, Yates and Comey said.
Referencing to the Islamic State, the duo added that the group recruits terrorists on public social media platforms such as Twitter. With encryption, they argued, communication over secure and encrypted applications cannot be monitored.
“We are stopping these things so far through tremendous hard work,” Comey said, “but I cannot see me stopping these indefinitely.”