FBI Still Wants Encryption Compromise Where None is Possible

| Editorial

FBI Guy and iPhone
FBI Director Comey is still searching for a so-called compromise on encryption, even though no such compromise is possible. The director made the comments while speaking at the International Conference on Cyber Security last Wednesday, where he said Americans should discuss the issue after the 2016 elections. He said we should have that conversation before some event involving encryption makes it impossible to discuss rationally.

“We are moving to a place where wide swaths of American life are absolutely private,” Mr. Comey said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “This is a different way to live. The FBI should not tell people what the answer is. Neither should companies. We have to have a conversation in this country about where we want to be.”

Pervasive Surveillance is the Precedent

Mr. Comey is mistaken in that initial premise, however. We aren’t moving to a place where “wide swaths of American life are absolutely private,” we are returning to such a place. The FBI “going dark” isn’t the precedent, the surveillance state is the precedent.

The subject of end-to-end encryption was a hot topic earlier in the year, sparked by the FBI trying to force Apple to create software that would bypass user encryption on the work phone of terrorist. The agency won an initial court order forcing Apple to do just that.

In the course of a vigorous appeal—and a lengthy public back and forth between Apple, the tech world, privacy advocates, the FBI, the Department of Justice, and attorneys general—the FBI withdrew its demand and hired a private security firm to hack the device.

The conversation died down soon thereafter, but Mr. Comey wants it to resume. “It became a rallying point for so much emotion that a complicated conversation between people with the same values became […] impossible,” Mr. Comey said.

Seeking Compromise Where None Is Possible

Speaking at the same event, David J. Hickton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, offered a similar tone as Mr. Comey’s. Mr. Hickton said, “I am confident that we can find a common ground on encryption, but right now I think it’s uncertain.”

As we always point out—because it’s important—encryption is binary. It either works or it doesn’t. If the government or a company has backdoor access, malicious actors the world over can get that same access. Foreign governments, criminal organizations, and terrorists can all target any backdoor that exists, no matter how zealously it is guarded and maintained.

This is well understood by the encryption community, but Director Comey and others in law enforcement appear unwilling to accept it. Mr. Comey approaches the subject from the standpoint that a compromise is possible when it isn’t.

[Via AppleInsider]

5 Comments Add a comment

  1. BurmaYank

    My hunch is that Comey’s declaration at this convocation is actually a controlled leak from Hillary Clinton; her shot across our bow that she intends to aggressively pursue everything the FBI has been demanding, using every tool (such as British & French collaboration in enforcing their equivalent draconian measures against Apple, etc.) that she expects to find in her arsenal.

    I don’t expect Trump would do otherwise, either.

  2. Brilliant analysis, Bryan, and I’m in complete agreement with you too, BurmaYank. It doesn’t matter what we choose at this point, methinks. It’s really up to us, the people to stand up to all of this, that is really the only way through. Apple has consistently shown itself to be on the side of said people, and I expect they will continue to be as long as they may into the future. We are living in interesting times, my friends.

  3. The choices we have in this election cycle are abysmal. This issue in particular cries out for a candidate with some libertarian principles. There is no candidate who gives a voter confidence they unequivocally defend this basic right. This FBI director’s repeated calls for back doors should lead to him being given the door.

  4. Time to send Comey packin… He neither knows, understands, or has the intellectual curiosity to find out what’s feasible. NOT ACCEPTABLE. We, the using public must FORCE him to understand.or bury him in a blanket of stupidity.

  5. A federal judge in the Bay Area ruled that the FBI violated the fourth amendment by recording more than 200 hours of conversation at the entrance to a court house.

    Agents planted concealed microphones around the San Mateo County Courthouse in 2009 and 2010 as part of an investigation into bid-rigging at public auctions for foreclosed homes. Bid-rigging is essentially a guaranteed contract even though a property is put up for auction anyway, if for nothing else, to make it appear fair and democratic.

    http://thenextweb.com/insider/2016/08/02/fbi-blasted-for-illegally-recording-more-than-200-hours-of-audio-during-an-investigation/

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